Trichotillomania: Not Just an Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety disorders affect more than 18% of Americans. One of the most negatively perceived and embarrassing anxiety disorders is Trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by the repeated urge to pull out body hair. Patients pull hair from all over their bodies; however, the most common places for patients to pull out hair from are their eyelashes, eyebrows and head. Usually, this chronic hair pulling results in either noticeable bald patches or complete baldness of the body. Trichotillomania is commonly lumped into the category of obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), but while it exhibits many similar characteristics as an OCD, it is not an OCD. A recent trich.org article discusses the unique characteristics of Trichotillomania and offers one doctor’s unique treatment suggestions.
Recently scientists have begun identifying Trichotillomania as a body-focused repetitive behavior disorder (BFRB). People with Trichotillomania have a neurologically based predisposition to pull their hair as a self-soothing mechanism. The pulling serves as a coping mechanism for the patients as they experience difficult or anxious emotions. After patients first begin pulling, they pull without being emotionally provoked due the action becoming habitually engrained in them. Trichotillomania is a disorder that patients biologically inherit but in most cases, Trichotillomania stays dormant for years. The majority of patients begin to discover that they suffer from Trichotillomania when they are in their teens and early twenties.
Trichotillomania differs from OCD in that a Trichotillomania patient does not have an obsession with pulling hair, but instead, uses hair pulling as a coping mechanism which provides them relief. An OCD on the other hand uses a compulsion in order to relax an obsession. While Trichotillomania involves a compulsive activity, pulling hair, it is not enacted through an obsession. This recent insight and distinction is crucial in providing treatment for the disorder. Dr. Dziok, an anxiety disorder specialist, says the key to treating Trichotillomania is stopping the compulsions by offering alternative coping mechanisms for the patient to utilize. The doctor goes on to discuss that current treatments are ineffective because they pursue treating the obsession behind Trichotillomania much like most OCD’s are treated. But as previously stated there is no obsession associated with Trichotillomania so the treatments are always unsuccessful. You can’t treat something that isn’t there. Hopefully Dr Dziok’s new insights will provide for more useful treatments for patients with Trichotillomania.
Trichotillomania is one of the countless disorders that are grouped under the umbrella term of anxiety disorders. It is crucial to develop an understanding that each anxiety disorder is unique and should receive specialized treatment. To learn more about the neurology of anxiety disorders such as Trichotillomania visit the neuroscience department of NorthShore University HealthSystems.