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What are the Most Common Trichotillomania Causes?

Melanie Smeltzer
Melanie Smeltzer

Trichotillomania is a mental illness commonly considered to be an impulse control disorder, which is characterized by a strong desire to pull the hair out of the head and body. As of 2011, trichotillomania causes were not definitively known, but many speculated that this hair-pulling disorder is the result of behavioral, biological, or psychological factors. Some theorists suggest that small children may learn this behavior from adults, while others feel that it may be due to either chemical factors or extreme stress.

Though there are many theories on trichotillomania causes, one of the most common ideas focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of this disorder. Anxiety and mental trauma are often thought to be triggers that cause the patient to compulsively pull out the hair of his or her head, eyelids, eyebrows, and body as a way to cope with these feelings. Sometimes patients who suffer from trichotillomania also experience the symptoms of depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Trichotillomania and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are often linked in some way.
Trichotillomania and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are often linked in some way.

Biologically, trichotillomania causes can range from a mutation of genes to abnormalities in naturally occurring chemicals. According to some theories, those who suffer from trichotillomania bear an altered SLITRK1 (SLIT and NTRK-like family, member 1) gene — a gene that helps instruct the body to create certain proteins. This mutation is often thought to be inherited by one or more close relatives. Other speculations indicate that this disorder may be caused by an imbalance of the neurochemicals dopamine and serotonin.

Trichotillomania causes are also occasionally associated with habits and learned behavior. This disorder is frequently thought to begin in childhood as a learned act. In this instance, the act of hair pulling may be an imitation of an adult, sibling, or playmate that eventually becomes a habit. As time goes by, this behavior may develop into a coping mechanism to aid in dealing with stress.

This anxiety disorder is said to affect roughly 4% of people in the United States alone, though this estimate may not be accurate, as some who are afflicted with trichotillomania feel embarrassment or shame over their condition. It generally develops in childhood, usually before the age of 11, and is more common in women than in men. Although small patches of hair loss may be one of the most common signs of this disorder, social avoidance, hair chewing or swallowing, and the presence of excessive clothing, headwear, or makeup may also be present.

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    • Trichotillomania and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are often linked in some way.
      By: Phase4Photography
      Trichotillomania and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are often linked in some way.