Pulling Hair is not a normal habit. It's a mental disorder called trichotillomania. It is characterized by having an irresistible urge to pull one's hair to the point that there is noticeable hair loss. Common areas for pulling are the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes. But this condition also involves pulling hair in other areas of the body.
This condition is a form of impulse control disorder. Impulse control disorders are a group of mental ailments that involve inability to control or resist impulses. As a result, the person acts in ways that pose danger and harm to oneself or to other people. People suffering from these disorders frequently hurt themselves when they act on the impulses.
Signs and Symptoms
A person with this disease lacks the ability to control the urge to pull out hair from the body. Other than this, there's also a sense of tension or anxiety when the person tries to resist the urge. After hair is pulled, the person feels satisfaction, relief, pleasure and other positive emotions.
Having bare patches on the scalp, eyebrows, and other areas where hair has been pulled out is an obvious sign of trichotillomania. People with this condition also have other associated behaviors such as chewing on hair, eating hair, twirling hair, and inspecting hair root. It's also common for these people to deny the problem and hide the hair loss with the use of hats, scarves and false eyebrows or eyelashes.
The exact cause of this disease is unknown. Experts theorize that it involves biological as well as behavioral factors. Some studies have found a promising link between neurotransmitters and trichotillomania. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that send messages to the nerve cells. When there is an imbalance in these brain chemicals, the brain's ability to control impulses is greatly affected.
Other experts also point out that stress can also play a role in the triggering of this impulsive behavior. Apart from these, it is also noted that many people with this condition also have other mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Trichotillomania also runs in the family. If a family member has this condition, you are at an increased risk of developing it later in life.
The doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical exam on a patient who has symptoms of this condition. Since there are no tests that can diagnose this illness, other tests to rule out other medical conditions for hair loss will be conducted. If the diagnosis is positive for this condition, the doctor will refer the patient to a psychiatrist or psychologist who is specially trained for treating this illness.
- habit reversal training
The primary method of treatment for this is a behavior therapy that is called habit reversal training. Apart from helping the person identify and avoid triggers of his/her hair-pulling impulse, it also teaches relaxation techniques to reduce the tension that comes with the urge.
- cognitive therapy
Sometimes, cognitive therapy that treats distorted perception and thinking is also used. This is achieved by helping patients develop the necessary skills for modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in different ways, and changing behaviors.
Medications may also be prescribed as part of the treatment. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically prescribed for people with this disorder.