Woman Has Two Massive Hairballs Removed From Stomach & Intestines

Photographed by Winnie Au.
A 38-year-old woman from the U.S. was recently taken to the hospital to have two hairballs removed from her stomach and small intestine. As it turns out, the unnamed woman suffers from a rare psychological disorder called Rapunzel Syndrome, which causes people to pull their hair out and eat the strands.

According to the BBC's story about a case study published last month in BMJ Case Reports, doctors removed a 6-by-4-inch ball of “densely packed” hair from the woman's stomach, as well as a 1.5-by-1-inch hairball from her small intestine. Prior to the surgery, the woman had begun experiencing sudden vomiting and constipation, and "had gone off food for a year," losing 15 pounds in eight months.

Rapunzel Syndrome, named after the fairy tale, is extremely rare. As the BBC reports, there have only been 88 other reported cases of the disorder. It's a combination of the compulsive hair-pulling, known as trichotillomania, as well as trichophagia, the compulsive eating of one's own hair. According to the Journal of Digestive Endoscopy, Rapunzel Syndrome occurs "almost exclusively" in young women.

Eating one's own hair can cause gastrointestinal blockage as well as gum disease and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Not only that, since our digestive systems can't break down hair, it can also cause clumps of hair to remain in the stomach, as it did for this poor woman.

Thankfully, the blockages in the woman's stomach were safely removed and she was given a high-protein diet to help her recover. In many cases, the Journal of Digestive Endoscopy says, since Rapunzel Syndrome is a psychological disorder, patients are often given a psychiatric assessment and are advised to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy.

We're glad this woman was able to remove the blockages in her stomach before they did any more damage.

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