Disease & Illness

Teenage Girl Dies Because Of Rare ‘Rapunzel Syndrome’

This seemingly harmless condition can cause serious problems.

Earlier this month, a teen was taken to the hospital after suddenly becoming sick at school. Now, her friends and family are sharing her story in an attempt to raise awareness of the condition that ultimately killed her.

Doctors tried—and failed—to resuscitate the 16-year-old girl. The cause of death, doctors soon discovered, was an infected hairball in her stomach, which caused inflammation in her abdomen and created an ulcer. That ulcer later burst, shutting down her vital organs and ultimately causing her death.

What Is Trichophagia?

A family friend of the teen said the hairball was caused by trichophagia, a psychiatric condition sometimes called “Rapunzel syndrome,” which causes people to chew and eat their own hair. Tricophagia is not to be confused with the mindless (and usually harmless) habit some kids have of chewing on the ends of their hair. (I did this as a child, and so did many of my friends.)

eat hair photo
Flickr | chefranden

People with trichophagia have a real compulsion to pull and ingest hair.

It might seem like a fairly harmless illness, but as Jasmine’s story proves, it can be quite serious. Trichophagia sufferers can end up with digestive problems as a result of hairballs, and some individuals have had to undergo surgery or take medication in order to remove digestive blocks.

surgery photo
Getty Images | Christopher Furlong

Others, like Jasmine, have died from complications.

One of the girl’s friends shared a picture of the victim (on the right) and herself on Facebook before starting a fundraising page for the girl’s family:

How Common Is Trichophagia?

While it’s good to know about trichophagia, it’s not a compulsion that many people need to worry about.

Only about 4 percent of people have trichotillomania, the compulsive pulling of hair (without ingesting it), and studies have found that only around 5 to 10 percent of those with trichotillomania then engage in trichophagia.

In other words: The disorder is rare.

trichotillomania photo
Flickr | katherine_hitt

However, the complications of trichophagia are definitely worth knowing about, since it’s a compulsion that can otherwise seem fairly harmless.

While the causes of trichophagia are still unknown, there are solutions out there for those who have the condition and are aware of its repercussions: Individuals can currently be helped with a combination of cognitive behavioral treatment, medication and therapy. It’s unclear if Jasmine had been receiving treatment for the condition before her death.

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To donate to Ashwell’s fundraiser for Jasmine’s family, head over to JustGiving to help lessen their financial strain during a tragic time.

“The heartbreak this family has endured in such a short time is understandably gut wrenching,” she wrote.