Trichotillomania, from Greek: trich- (hair), tillen- (to pull), and mania- (madness) is the compulsive urge to pull out or twist one's own hair until it breaks off leading to noticeable hair loss, causing distress and social or functional impairment. The scalp hair may come out in round patches across the scalp giving the hair an uneven appearance, but other hairy areas, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, nose hair, pubic hair, or other body hair may be involved primarily or secondarily.
Trichotillomania and Trichophagia
A significant minority of people who suffer with trichotillomania eat the pulled-out hair, a habit called trichophagia from Greek: trich- (hair), and phagia- (to eat). Trichophagia can produce a hair ball (like the ones found in cats) which can lead to poor nutrition and even cause blockage in the intestines.
Trichotillomania and Impulsive Control Disorders
Trichotillomania is currently classified as a type of impulsive control disorder (a mental illnesses that involve the repeated failure to resist impulses, or urges, to act in ways that are dangerous or harmful). People with impulse control disorders know that they can hurt themselves or others by acting on the impulses, but they cannot stop themselves, and this perfectly defines the vast majority of people with trichotillomania.
The causes of trichotillomania are not clearly understood, but it appears to involve both biological and behavioral factors. It is well documented that trichotillomania may be triggered by depression or stress.
Trichotillomania may be present in infants, but the peak age of onset is 9 to 13. Trichotillomania that begins in children fewer than 6 years old may go away without treatment within 12 months. However, trichotillomania in older people often becomes a lifelong disorder. Trichotillomania affects as much as 4% of the population, and women are four times more likely to have trichotillomania than men.