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What are the Causes of Trichotillomania?

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 8/28/2010

Causes of trichotillomania are still not officially known, but there are several viable suspects. Some of these causes include a brain chemistry imbalance and other disorders like OCD and depression.

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    Trichotillomania

    Trichotillomania is a mental disorder where people have a strong urge to pull out their hair. This strange disorder initially baffled doctors and other medical professionals. Initially, it was thought that the disorder was rare, but more recent feedback from people with the disorder proves that it is not as uncommon as people used to believe. It is more common among girls and it can start as early as one year old. The causes of trichotillomania are currently not very clear. Let us take a look at some of the its most probable causes.

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    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

    Both OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and trichotillomania involve behaviors that are repetitive, so some experts think that the two disorders are related. Trichotillomania may be a form of OCD, but so far, no studies can confirm this connection.

    Other disorders are also linked to trichotillomania. These disorders include anxiety and depression. People with these disorders have a high possibility of suffering from trichotillomania, but again, further studies need to be done before this link can be verified.

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    Imbalance in One's Brain Chemistry

    The more likely cause for this disorder is an imbalance in one's brain chemistry that forces people to perform compulsive behaviors such as pulling one's own hair. Neurotransmitters, a chemical that is normally a part of the communication center of the brain, may be prevented from doing their tasks either by trauma, stress, foreign chemicals or other disorders or conditions. When this happens, problems with repetitive and compulsive behaviors may occur. Although this is a very likely cause for the disorder, there is still not enough proof to make it a fact.

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    Habits

    Experts also speculate that behavioral factors play a part in causing this disorder. Sometimes, people do things that cause them some sort of relief or pleasant sensation like pulling one's hair. The more often this deed is done, the more it is interpreted by the brain as a rule. Pulling one's hair may cause a feeling of relief or bliss for a person, so it is possible that they would do this a lot. As they pull their hair more often, their brains interpret this as something they should always do whenever they want to feel good or relaxed. As it is done more regularly, it becomes a habit even if it no longer provides the same positive sensations it initially did.

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    Inheritance

    A lot of instances of this disorder involve people who have relatives with the same disorder, suggesting to experts that the disorder can be inherited. Although the risk is only slightly higher for people who have family members with the same disorder, it is still not proven that this is an inherited disorder.

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    The Bottomline

    Although it is suspected that biological factors play a role in causing this disorder, impulse control and habits are also likely candidates for being the instigators of the trichotillomania. Whatever the causes of trichotillomania are, it is always recommended to consult a medical professional, preferably an expert in impulse control, whenever symptoms start to appear.

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    Reference

    Web MD, "Mental Health and Trichotillomania" - http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/trichotillomania

    Medline Plus, "Trichotillomania" - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001517.htm

    Kids Health, "Trichotillomania" - http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/trichotillomania.html