OCT 08, 2016 9:34 AM PDT

Diagnosed: Rapunzel Syndrome is No Fairy Tale

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
It’s no fairy tale – Rapunzel Syndrome led to one 38-year-old woman hospitalized for severe gastrointestinal problems that threatened her life. As it turns out, doctors were stunned to discover the cause of her problem were two “densely packed” hairballs found in her stomach and intestines.
 
The disorder is so-named after the fairy tale character, Rapunzel, who had majestically long golden hair that was likened “spun gold.” In the clinical setting, however, hair is anything but majestic. Patients with Rapunzel syndrome pull out their hair and ingest it.


 
According to the medical case report, the disorder is a combination of two psychological elements: Trichotillomania, the urge to pull out hair; and trichophagia, the urge to eat the hair. The resulting hairball is termed a trichobezoar.
 
The patient was admitted to the hospital with severe constipation and vomiting. Doctors also noted that her stomach appeared abnormally distended. Her medical history revealed that she was unable to keep food down for quite some time, leading to dramatic weight loss – 15 pounds in the span of 8 months.
 
Under surgery, doctors extracted two densely packed balls hair: a 6in x 4in (15cmx10cm) ball in the stomach and a 1.5in x 1in (4cmx3cm) ball in the small intestines. These masses probably caused the organs to accumulate gas and liquid, leading to the abnormal distension of her stomach.
 
Rapunzel Syndrome is rare – this patient joined only 88 other patients with the same diagnosis. Of these, young girls under 10 years old make up a significant portion of the patient population (40 percent).
 
Fortunately, the patient is recovering well after the surgery. Doctors are also treating her with a high protein diet to rescue the metabolic imbalance caused from trichophasia. In addition, because the problem stems from psychological disturbances, the patient will likely also be treated with behavioral therapy. “A cognitive approach to therapy is usually taken, to help to break the rituals associated with the condition and lessen the compulsion to pull and eat the hair,” according to the Belgravia Centre, a U.K.-based hair-loss treatment clinic.

 


Additional sources: Belgravia Centre, BBC
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 16, 2019
Health & Medicine
JUL 16, 2019
Rare Bone Marrow Manifestation in Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease with the hallmark diagnostic feature being non-caseating granulomas--clumps of immune cells including macr...
JUL 25, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUL 25, 2019
Tinea Versicolor, Diagnosis And Treatment
Tinea Versicolor (TV) is a fungal infection of the skin. Also called Pityriasis Versicolor, the condition is common, especially in tropical climates. The d...
SEP 02, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
SEP 02, 2019
A Blood Drop Test for Rapid Detection of Traumatic Brain Injury
A study published by Yue et al., in August 2019, reported that a simple blood test (a few drops of blood) can detect traumatic brain injury efficiently and...
SEP 24, 2019
Immunology
SEP 24, 2019
Flu Shot Less Effective Due to Overuse of Antibioitics
New research out of the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that the consequence of overuse of antibiotics lowers the effectiveness of the seasona...
NOV 26, 2019
Immunology
NOV 26, 2019
The Immune System's Hand in Toxic Shock
While rare, toxic shock is a dangerous condition that acts fast and can be fatal. A new study identified a new target for treating toxic shock, a component...
JAN 30, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 30, 2020
How To Choose The Right DNA Testing Kit For You
One of the most exciting scientific advancements in the past decade, at least in terms of its impact on pop culture, was the sudden accessibility of home D...
Loading Comments...