Doctors removed a 1-pound mass of hair from the stomach of a 12-year-old Chinese girl, Global Times reports.
The doctors diagnosed the girl with pica, a disorder where people — usually women and children — compulsively consume non-food items. Such behaviours are considered normal in children younger than three, but one study found it persists in about 10% of children older than 12.
The girl had apparently been losing weight and her long hair for months. CT scans revealed a foot-long mass, which took up most of her stomach. The screen cap to the right was the hairball from the girl, but here’s a close-up picture of a similar one, which takes the shape of the stomach:
People with pica eat ice, dirt, paper, and a variety of other things; when they consume hair — a compulsion related to trichotillomania, the hair-pulling disorder — it’s called trichophagia. Its onset is often associated with “significant social stressors,” according to The American Journal of Psychiatry.
“I’ve seen her put hair in her mouth, but I thought she was just playing and didn’t think much about it,” the girl’s mother told Global Times.
Hair cannot be digested, so as more is added to the stomach, a mass forms and grows larger. As a case study about “Emily,” a 7-year-old girl with the condition found, people with trichophagia also sometimes consume the hair of others. Doctors found she was eating hair from her mother’s head as well as her own.
While the hairball itself can be life-threatening, once it’s removed, the authors of the case study note, the real treatment begins.
The authors stressed that their goal would be to “empower Emily to use alternative and more adaptive tools for dealing with the stressors in her life — in essence, to learn to use her mind, rather than her stomach or her hair, as an instrument for coping.”
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