How Hair Eating Impacts the Body

Woman holding stomach in pain

Trichophagia is often a result of trichotillomania and can lead to a wide range of health complications. Typically, ingested hair may remain asymptomatic, but if the habit continues for a prolonged period, it results in hairballs, which have severe digestive implications. The discomfort may lead to anxiety and a surge in stress levels, which triggers the urge even to pull out more hair. Let's review some impacts of trichophagia. 


Trichobezoars are masses of hair that accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract, mainly in the stomach. Hair is indigestible; thus, it can accumulate to form a mass in the digestive system over time. The mass results in several symptoms, including; 

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Nausea and vomiting result from the obstruction of the food passage system. 
  • Weight loss since trichobezoars interfere with normal digestion and nutrient absorption, resulting in unintended weight loss. 
  • Gastric obstruction is caused by prolonged ingestion of hair, and can be potentially life-threatening. 

Trichobezoar treatment often involves surgical removal or an endoscopy procedure, which can break down the accumulated masses and eliminate them through the esophagus. However, surgical procedures are only conducted for a large mass. Trichobezoars can be prevented by addressing the underlying cause, which is trichotillomania. 

Digestive Issues 

Eating hair can lead to digestive issues primarily because human hair is indigestible. Our digestive system isn't designed to break down hair efficiently, so when ingested, it can accumulate in the digestive tract and potentially form a mass known as a hairball. This can obstruct the digestive system, leading to symptoms like abdominal pain, constipation, and gastrointestinal complications. Medical intervention may be required to remove the blockage. Trichophagia, or the compulsive eating of hair, is a condition often associated with certain psychiatric disorders like trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and may require behavioral therapy to address

How to Contain Trichophagia

There is a wide range of therapies and solutions for containing trichophagia. These treatments are usually tailored to one specific need since different individuals have different battles despite experiencing similar conditions. Regardless of the severity of the condition, several therapies can help one break off from this habit. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy  

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an essential intervention in the management of trichophagia and trichotillomania. Through CBT, one can quickly identify their primary triggers to help them anticipate and contain them before any damage. Trichophagia can be considered as self-soothing or satisfactory; therefore, CBT can help an individual challenge and modify these self-soothing habits by equipping one with the essential skills to contain the urge to pull out and eat hair. The CBT process entails modifying behaviors by identifying alternative behaviors to address underlying stressors that may lead one to engage in BFRBs. It may involve implementing habit reversal training, which helps individuals become more aware of their triggers and find healthier responses.   

Stress Management 

Stress management is a core component in recovery when dealing with BFRBs such as trichophagia. One has to identify suitable ways to unwind and remain calm. Some of the best relaxation techniques include meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques provide mental and physical relief; thus, you will not be vulnerable to anxious moments that may leave you susceptible to BFRBs. Stress management should not be extreme. It can be as simple as breathing in and out or attending yoga classes to relax your mind and body. Stress is a primary trigger for hair-eating and pulling; thus, finding ways to mitigate stressful situations will help you make steps toward recovery. Another form of stress management is self-monitoring, which involves writing journals to track when and how you experience triggering episodes. Such monitoring makes you more aware of your triggers and the onset of your BFRBs, making it easy to contain them. Having a pattern for your triggers helps you adopt targeted coping mechanisms.  

Habit Reversal Training 

This form of therapy will help you become more mindful of your negative and positive habits. Habit reversal reinforces the replacement of negative habits with healthier ones, especially for individuals dealing with BFRBs such as trichophagia. The training is divided into three stages: awareness training, competing response training, and social support. During awareness training, you will learn more about the onset of your BFRBs and the exact causes of adopting these habits. Competing response training helps you adopt diverse coping mechanisms that will help distract you from pulling out and eating your hair. Such distractions are usually exciting and give one a similar relief to what they would have gotten from trichophagia. Finding healthier options to bank on the rain's reward system is an excellent way to mitigate trichophagia. The social support section involves tagging friends and relatives throughout recovery. Friends and relatives learn more about the condition, give positive feedback, and motivate individuals to stick to their competing responses. They may also cue the person to create reminders when an individual faces their triggers. Therefore, the social support becomes more like an accountability partner. 

What is the Outlook for Individuals with Trichophagia?

Trichophagia is usually underdiagnosed primarily because individuals dealing with this condition may be in denial and may shy away from seeking help. Those actively experiencing trichophagia symptoms often struggle with the situation until it advances to severe levels, where they start to experience serious symptoms such as nausea and abdominal pains. The outlook for those dealing with trichophagia varies depending on factors such as the severity of the condition, the presence of a mental health condition, and the willingness of an individual to seek treatment. Some of the considerations regarding the outlook for individuals with trichophagia include;   

  • Successful treatment or complete remission of symptoms can be achieved through various therapies and medication depending on the consistency of an individual in seeking professional help.  
  • Relapse prevention strategies can help prevent one from returning to old habits after successful treatment. To prevent relapse, there is a need for continuous support from a mental health professional. 
  • Effective treatment of trichophagia improves one's quality of life, especially since one does not have to deal with problems such as gastrointestinal complications. 
  • Addressing co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and trichotillomania can help prevent the reoccurrence of trichophagia. 
  • The outlook for trichophagia also depends on various individual factors, such as a support system and access to professional prognosis, for an effective treatment process. 

Final Take 

While managing trichophagia can be overwhelming, most of those affected have achieved significant improvement and lead fulfilling lives. Trichophagia is a repetitive behavior that can affect an individual's physical and emotional state. The damage to one's health is usually severe, especially if one has been engaging in the habit for a prolonged period, as the ingested hair accumulates to create a large mass that can cause obstruction and other gastrointestinal complications. The primary signs are usually abdominal pain and nausea, which result from trichobezoars. Trichophagia stems from trichotillomania, which is caused by underlying psychological conditions such as stress and depression. Therefore, the best way to find a lasting solution is to handle the primary triggers.

Diagnosis & Treatment
Hair Eating
Hair Pulling