Christina Pearson’s hand unconsciously kept searching through the hair on her head to find the “right” hair that “needed” to be pulled as she lay on her couch immersed in a book. By the time she finished the novel, an entire pile of blond hair lay at her side.
She was thirteen years old at the time and couldn’t believe or understand why she had compulsively pulled out so much of her own hair; neither could the doctor who examined her.
Through out her twenties, she remained captive to the inner compulsion to pull out her hair or pick at her skin terrified that she would be found out by others and fearful that she would never be in control of her own life again. It wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she learned there was a name for her condition.
Today, Christina runs a successful business, is on medication and uses various therapies to control her illness called trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder that causes people to pull out hair from their scalp, eyelashes, pubic hair and other parts of their body. Christina knew others must suffer like herself so 18 years ago she started the Trichotillomania Learning Center where there is support for the other 2-4% of the population that suffers from the uncontrollable urges of trichotillomania.
Treatment for trichotillomania is typically focused around Cognitive Behavioral Therapy counseling and medication. Medications that have been found to be the most helpful are serotonin re-uptake blocking drugs. There are alternative therapies such as biofeedback and support groups which also assist in treatment. Trichotillomania has been a difficult obsessive disorder to classify but is thought to fall into what is called Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) along with skin picking and chronic nail biting.
A new study treatment by Dr. Jon E. Grant and colleagues from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis shows promise. The antioxidant called N-acetylcysteine, an over the counter vitamin supplement was given to 25 people in doses of 1,200 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams per day for 12 weeks. The 25 people in the placebo group did not receive the supplement. Those taking the N-acetylcysteine showed significantly greater improvement in the reduction of their hair pulling. The study was published in Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2009.
People with trichotillomania have felt at times suicidal or worse. In an interview with CNN.com, Christina Pearson admitted, “There was a time in my early 20s when I really, seriously considered, could I cut my hands off and live my life? My hands were my enemies, because they pulled my hair.”
The Trichotillomania Learning Center provides support for kids and teens, adults, educators and treatment professionals. Access to support groups, research updates and lists of treatment providers by state can be found there. And to her credit, Christina maintains an ongoing blog chronicling her continued fight against the urges of trichotillomania assuring people that they are not alone in their daily struggle.
For further information go to the Trichotillomania Learning Center at: http://www.trich.org/index.html
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles