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Am J Psychiatry. 1991 Mar;148(3):365-70.

Characteristics of 60 adult chronic hair pullers.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455.



This study was constructed to detail the demographic and phenomenological features of chronic hair pullers as well as to assess psychiatric comorbidity in a sizable study group.


Subjects were drawn from an outpatient population of chronic hair pullers who had been referred to a trichotillomania clinic or had responded to a newspaper advertisement announcing a treatment study of adults who pull out their hair. Sixty adult chronic hair pullers completed a semistructured interview that focused on their hair-pulling behavior and demographic characteristics and that incorporated screening questions for DSM-III-R axis I disorders. The data were tabulated to derive a comprehensive picture of this group.


The typical subject was a 34-year-old woman who had pulled hair from two or more sites for 21 years. All subjects described either tension before or relief/gratification after pulling hair from the primary site, but 17% (N = 10) failed to describe both of these characteristics and thus failed to fulfill the DMS-III-R criteria for trichotillomania. Forty-nine subjects (82%) qualified for past or current axis I diagnoses other than trichotillomania. Several characteristics of the study group suggested phenomenological differences between obsessive-compulsive disorder and trichotillomania.


Adult trichotillomania is a chronic disorder, frequently involving multiple hair sites, and is associated with high rates of psychiatric comorbidity. Its relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder requires further clarification. The tension-reduction requirement in DSM-III-R for the diagnosis of trichotillomania may be overly restrictive.

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