Surgeons have removed an enormous hairball which was trapped in the stomach of a 37-year-old woman who ignored advice she was given.
The anonymous patient, from New York, complained to doctors of abdominal pain, loss of appetite and vomiting every time she ate or drank.
Medical scans revealed a clump of hair, known as a trichobezoar, was lodged in her stomach. She was a known sufferer of Rapunzel syndrome, a psychological disorder which causes people to eat their own hair.
The woman, who had surgery to remove another hairball a decade ago, admitted to falling back into her old habits of regularly eating her own locks.
When the hairball was removed, doctors found a plastic hair clip inside. They said it had been growing for years.
The ‘unique’ tale intrigued the doctors so much that they decided to go ahead and submit it to the widely respected BMJ Case Reports.
Doctors at the Iqbal Medical College, Forest Hills, who treated her, said the hairball had been growing for years.
Falling back into the same habit
They wrote: ‘The patient stated that she had stopped the practice of eating her own hair, since suffering the prior gastric obstruction.
‘However, on further questioning, she admitted to having recently fallen back into the same habit.’
They added: ‘The stomach is usually able to clear foreign bodies, thus it may take years to develop bezoars, especially one that is symptomatic.
‘Our case is unique because this patient ingested a clip along with her hair, which may have been a nidus for the development of the trichobezoar.’
Bezoars, which can occur after undergoing gastric surgery, recur in around 14 per cent of patients, according to figures.
Few documented cases
Doctors said there are ‘very few documented cases’ of patients developing bezoars after the gastric surgery she underwent.
Initial tests found nothing to be concerned about, despite her worrying symptoms – which were similar to that of pancreatitis.
It was only when a CT scan displayed a large trichobezoar that the potentially fatal condition was ruled out.
During an operation, surgeons were able to track the clump of hair in her stomach, which was mixed with bits of food.
Their first attempt at removing the ‘bulky’ mass was unsuccessful and the patient needed a tube to help her breathe.
The successful attempt at removal
Surgeons tried again once she was given the tube, and they were able to break down the hairball into smaller chunks.
During the removal, a round plastic hair clip was discovered within the mass, which doctors said made the extraction difficult.
The patient was given counselling sessions for her disorder, predominantly found in young people who have learning disabilities.
Hairballs can lead to complications including bowel obstruction, and perforation – a medical emergency which can kill in minutes.
Less than 120 cases have been reported in the medical literature, and almost always women are affected, it was reported last year.
Medical scans revealed a clump of hair, known as a trichobezoar, was lodged in her stomach
WHAT IS RAPUNZEL SYNDROME?
Rapunzel syndrome is a rare condition where hairballs are found in the digestive tract after a person ingests their own hair.
It is predominantly found in young people who have learning disabilities or are emotionally disturbed.
A hairball – called a bezoar – extends from the stomach, with it’s ‘tail’ in the small intestine.
Hairballs are accumulations of human or vegetable fibers that accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract.
They increase in size because hair and fibre is not absorbed.
They cause abdominal pain and nausea.
Sometimes people can present at healthcare facilities with a mass, but no symptoms, but it can progress to tearing and obstructing the stomach and bowel.
Most hairballs in children are from swallowed hair from the head, dolls, or brushes.
Source: Clinical Medicine and Research journal