A British teenager who had a habit of chewing her hair died
after a hairball, 12 inches long and 10 inches wide, developed
in her stomach. The teenager died after several days of illness.
It is thought that the hairball had irritated the lining of
her stomach and hours after the operation she suffered massive
It was only after she was admitted to hospital that it was
discovered that the hairball had developed in her stomach. The
medical diagnosis for the condition is called trichobezoar.
Trichobezoars develop over a number of years as hair, which
is indigestible, is swallowed and then becomes matted, slowly
growing into a ball.
Dr Nera Patel, a pathologist, said the teenager's stomach
wall had become irritated by the hairball and she had bled from
a number of places. He said: "I had never encountered one
before. No one in our medical team, of some 30 years' experience,
had seen anything like it before. It is very rare." John
Lyttle, a consultant surgeon, said that surgery was inherently
"dangerous" and there was a 20 per cent death rate
with stomach operations.
Bezoars are balls of indigestable matter that gradually build
up in the stomach over a number of years. They can be made from
a variety of things including fruit and vegetable matter (Phytobezoars).
Occasionally bezoars can develop from stomach flora and fauna
like Candida (Mycotic bezoars).
Trichobezoars are perhaps the most common type of bezoar to
develop, although this is a rare condition. Trichobezoars develop
in people who eat their hair, a condition called trichophagia.
Trichophagia is generally regarded as a personality disorder
similar to finger nail biting. In turn, trichophagia is often
linked to habitual hair plucking which is called trichotillomania.
Trichobezoars are composed of hair, usually plucked from the
individual's own scalp. The ingested hair always turns black,
regardless of the original color, due to denaturation of proteins
by the highly acidic stomach gastric juice. When a trichobezoar
is removed in surgery it smells rather foul because the hair
mesh traps undigested dietary fat and bacteria colonize the
Up to 90% of patients with trichobezoars are female with many
between 20 and 30 years of age. Reviewing 131 collected cases
for symptoms associated with trichobezoars, a palpable abdominal
mass was present (87.7%), abdominal pain (70.2%), nausea and
(64.9%), weakness and weight loss (38.1%), constipation or diarrhoea
(32%) and haematemesis (6.1%). The clinical symptoms of a trichobezoar
vary considerably from person to person, and the size and position
of the trichobezoar in the intestines.