Rapunzel Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

rapunzel syndrome causes treatment symptoms

What is Rapunzel syndrome?

Rapunzel syndrome is a rare condition caused by the ingestion of hair, usually due to a pattern of hair pulling or trichotillomania. In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment of this condition.


People with Rapunzel syndrome have an uncontrollable urge to pull out their hair, often from the scalp, eyebrows, or eyelashes, and sometimes even from other parts of the body. Over time, the ingested hair can form a tangled mass in the stomach and intestines, leading to a blockage that can cause a range of symptoms and potentially life-threatening complications. The condition is named after the fairy tale character Rapunzel, who had long hair that she used to let down from a tower, as the tangled mass of hair in the stomach and intestines can sometimes resemble the long braided hair of the storybook character.

Symptoms of Rapunzel Syndrome:

The primary symptom of Rapunzel syndrome is chronic hair pulling, or trichotillomania, which can lead to the ingestion of large amounts of hair. Over time, the hair can form a tangled mass in the stomach and intestines, causing a blockage that can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation

In severe cases, the blockage can cause a rupture of the digestive tract, which can be life-threatening.

Is Rapunzel Syndrome More Common in Children?

While Rapunzel syndrome can affect people of any age, it is more commonly seen in young children and adolescents, particularly those with underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Children with developmental disabilities or who have experienced trauma or abuse may also be at higher risk.

Treatment of Rapunzel Syndrome:

Preventing and treating Rapunzel syndrome can be challenging, but there are steps parents can take to reduce the risk. Encouraging healthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety, such as exercise, mindfulness, or creative expression, can help children find alternative ways to manage their emotions. Additionally, keeping hair tied back or out of reach may help prevent hair pulling.

Surgical intervention is often necessary to remove the hairball and alleviate the obstruction. In severe cases, the surgery may involve a complete gastrectomy or removal of the stomach, although this is rare.

Psychology Aspects:

In many cases, people with Rapunzel syndrome have experienced some form of psychological trauma or abuse, which may have contributed to the development of the hair pulling behavior. Some people with Rapunzel syndrome may also have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. Treatment may involve a multidisciplinary approach, including surgery to remove the hairball, counseling or psychotherapy to address underlying psychological conditions, and medication to manage symptoms of anxiety or depression.

What Parents of Children with Rapunzel Syndrome Can Do:

If a child is displaying symptoms of Rapunzel syndrome, it is crucial for parents to seek medical attention immediately. In addition to medical treatment, parents can play an essential role in supporting their child’s recovery by:

  • Seek professional help: Consult with a pediatrician, gastroenterologist, and mental health professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. The treatment plan should address both the physical and psychological aspects of the condition.
  • Be supportive and understanding: Avoid criticizing or punishing the child for the hair pulling behavior. Instead, try to understand the underlying psychological factors that may be contributing to the behavior.
  • Help your child manage stress: Teach your child coping skills such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to manage stress and anxiety. This can help reduce the urge to pull out hair.
  • Encourage positive behaviors: Reinforce positive behaviors and praise your child when they engage in activities that do not involve hair pulling. Encouraging positive behaviors can help replace the hair pulling habit.
  • Educate your child about the condition: Help your child understand the condition and how it affects their health. Teach them the importance of following the treatment plan, taking medication as prescribed, and attending therapy sessions

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