OCD Types What Is Trichotillomania (TTM)? By Owen Kelly, PhD Owen Kelly, PhD Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 25, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print baranova_ph / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Trichotillomania? Symptoms Causes and Risk Factors Diagnosis Treatment Coping What Is Trichotillomania? Trichotillomania (TTM), also known as hair-pulling disorder, is a condition in which the affected person repeatedly pulls out, twists out, or breaks off hair from any part of the body for non-cosmetic reasons. People with trichotillomania will pull out head hair as well as eyelashes, eyebrows, and/or hair on other parts of the body, such as the underarm, pubic, chin, chest, or leg areas. They may pull out their hair intentionally or unconsciously. Symptoms According to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, trichotillomania can come and go, stopping for days or even months before reoccurring. The hair-pulling behavior has even rarely been reported to happen during sleep. Trichotillomania is classified in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder. While trichotillomania can manifest differently depending on the person, it generally has five distinct characteristics: Recurrent pulling out of one’s hair resulting in noticeable hair loss An increasing sense of tension immediately prior to pulling out the hair or when attempting to resist the behavior Pleasure, gratification, or relief when pulling out the hair The disturbance is not better accounted for by another mental disorder and is not due to a general medical condition such as alopecia areata The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning The following rituals and behavioral patterns often precede pulling: Combing through the hairFeeling individual hairsTugging at hairsVisually searching the scalp and hairline Causes and Risk Factors While no one knows for sure what causes trichotillomania, biological forces as well as behavioral, learning, and psychological components are thought to play a role. Family History Having a family member or relative with trichotillomania increases the risk for the condition, which suggests that there may be a heritable component to the condition. One twin study suggested a heritability estimate of 76.2%, indicating that genetics plays a significant role. Co-Occurring Conditions Trichotillomania is often accompanied by other psychiatric disorders, including: Depressive disorders Excoriation (skin-picking disorder) Tourette's syndrome Other obsessive-compulsive disorders Diagnosis Because trichotillomania can resemble other medical conditions associated with hair loss such as alopecia areata, diagnosis of trichotillomania often requires both a dermatological and psychiatric evaluation. Diagnosis may be complicated as alopecia areata itself can sometimes trigger trichotillomania. In both adolescents and adults, a trichotillomania diagnosis may be further hampered by the person’s reluctance to disclose their hair-pulling behavior. Trichotillomania is a relatively rare illness, affecting 1% to 2% of the population. Trichotillomania can affect people of all ages; however, it appears to be much more common among children and adolescents than adults. Roughly 90% of adults with the condition are female. Young Children In very young children, trichotillomania has been compared to other habits such as thumb sucking or nail-biting. Children less than 5 years old often pull their hair out unknowingly. In the same way that thumb-sucking stops spontaneously for most children, the majority of children who begin to pull their hair at this early age will stop on their own. Preadolescents and Young Adults Trichotillomania often begins between ages 9 and 13. Interestingly, the majority of people (70% to 90%) affected by trichotillomania at this age are female. Among people in this age group, trichotillomania tends to be chronic in nature. In addition, these individuals often have oral rituals associated with hair pulling, such as chewing or licking the lips, or even the eating of hair. Approximately 1% to 3% of college-aged individuals in the U.S. have trichotillomania. Why Is Your Teen Pulling Out Her Hair? Treatment Treatment of trichotillomania is often unnecessary for very young children as they usually grow out of it. However, for people with adolescent-onset trichotillomania, treatment may be necessary, especially if it is suspected that the person is also consuming the pulled hair, which can cause dangerous blockages in the gastrointestinal system. Psychotherapy Cognitive behavioral techniques have demonstrated some efficacy in treating trichotillomania. Prominent among these is habit reversal therapy, which aims to help people develop skills to reduce their harmful behaviors, including: Self-monitoring (awareness training)Identification of behavior triggersModifying the environment to decrease the likelihood of pulling behaviorIdentifying a substitution behavior that is incompatible with hair pulling Overview of Habit Reversal Training Medication Currently, there is limited evidence that medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are consistently effective in treating trichotillomania, so the FDA has not approved any medications for specifically treating the condition. However, several types of medications have been tried, particularly if there are co-occurring mood, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. These include: Anafranil (clomipramine)Depakote (valproate)Lithobid, Eskalith (lithium carbonate)Luvox (fluvoxamine)Paxil (paroxetine)Prozac (fluoxetine)Zoloft (sertraline)NaltrexoneNeuroleptics Coping While the best way to cope with trichotillomania will depend on your age and severity of symptoms, there are a few strategies you or your child to try: Find a healthy replacement habit. Try squeezing a stress ball, handling textured objects, or drawing—or ask your healthcare professional for some other ideas. Practice relaxation techniques. Given that trichotillomania often coexists with other mental illnesses, it’s helpful to learn and practice relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and progressive relaxation. Make a chart. Each day you go without pulling your hair, add a sticker or checkmark and reward yourself after a streak. Try hanging the chart in a room where you tend to pull out your hair. Seek support. It’s always helpful to talk with others who understand what you’re going through. The TLC Foundation offers a variety of online support groups as well as a weekly community hangout on Zoom. If you or a loved one are struggling with trichotillomania, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. What is Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling Disorder)? Woods DW, Houghton DC. Diagnosis, evaluation, and management of trichotillomania. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2014;37(3):301-17. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2014.05.005 Novak CE, Keuthen NJ, Stewart SE, Pauls DL. A twin concordance study of trichotillomania. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2009;150B(7):944-9. doi:10.1002/ajmg.b.30922 Merck Manual. Trichotillomania. Harrison JP, Franklin ME. Pediatric trichotillomania. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2012;14(3):188–196. doi:10.1007/s11920-012-0269-8 Additional Reading Bruce TO, Barwick LW, Wright HH. Diagnosis and management of trichotillomania in children and adolescents. Paediatr Drugs. 2005;7(6):365-76. doi:10.2165/00148581-200507060-00005 Falkenstein MJ, Mouton-Odum S, Mansueto CS, Golomb RG, Haaga DA. Comprehensive behavioral treatment of trichotillomania: a treatment development study. Behav Modif. 2016;40(3):414-38. doi:10.1177/0145445515616369 By Owen Kelly, PhD Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders. 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