How one bad habit landed a 13-year-old in the emergency room

A 13-year-old girl was nauseous and in pain. This is what doctors removed from her stomach.

 A girl experiences menstrual cramps and period pains (Illustrative) (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A girl experiences menstrual cramps and period pains (Illustrative)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Doctors at Hadassah Ein Kerem could not believe their eyes when they took out a huge lump of hair from the stomach of a 13-year-old girl. Her mom said: "This whole story is weird and unnerving, but we're glad it's not a tumor.”

Children often complain about abdominal pain, and this is what happened to the 13-year-old girl who complained for months that her stomach was bothering her.  Yet only recently, after suffering from nausea and vomiting, her parents took her to Hadassah Ein Kerem. There, she was examined which led to a particularly strange conclusion. A hairball 20 centimeters in diameter filled most of her stomach.

The doctors performed an unusual operation to open the girl's stomach and managed to remove the lump of hair, which could have endangered her life if it had not been discovered.

Abnormal and life-threatening condition

"The girl and her parents came to the ER because of abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen,” said Dr. Sahmer Mikhael, a pediatric surgeon at Hadassah. "When initial imaging tests were performed it was found that the stomach was filled with food combined with another substance.The diagnosis was confirmed by endoscopy - but the lump couldn’t be removed from the stomach due to its size and stiffness. So the girl was taken to an operating room and a huge lump of hair was removed from her stomach in its entirety. This prevented intestinal obstruction that could have been critical."

Mikhael explained that the doctors' concern was "that the lump would block her stomach if it became bigger, or if part of it progressed towards the small intestine. Both options were very dangerous.”

The doctor explained that this blockage was probably the result of eating hair, a condition known as trichophagia, a well-known but rare diagnosis. The doctor emphasized that "Hadassah doesn’t remember a case of such a large lump of hair that had to be removed surgically. It’s definitely abnormal. He added: "I urge parents to pay attention to strange habits of children and adolescents, with an emphasis on eating and swallowing unusual things."

We thought it was just menstrual cramps

The girl’s mother said that the problem started a year prior. For four-five months she suffered from increasing abdominal pain at the onset of her period. The mom thought the girl’s pain was connected to her period and didn’t take the matter seriously until she saw that the pain was not only when the girl was menstruating. They went to a local doctor who asked a lot of questions, did blood and ultrasound tests and in all the tests they found nothing but a lack of iron.  The parents didn’t know what to do as their daughter would wake up every morning with nausea and would vomit water.

The mom said that on the girl’s birthday, she was writhing in pain.  They made an appointment with Dr. Diana Averbuch at the local clinic, who felt a lump in the girl’s stomach and urgently referred her to the emergency room. At Hadassah they diagnosed the problem and treated her daughter quickly and efficiently before any major damage was caused.

"This whole story is weird and jarring. But we’re glad it wasn’t a tumor," said the mother in relief, adding, "We didn’t know about the phenomenon before, and when it happened I discovered that doctors know about it. In a conversation with the psychiatrist, my daughter said that for her at first it was like a game. She didn’t pull hair, she put only fallen hairs in her mouth. It took us a while to figure out what was going on. Now that it’s over, we're so thankful to the Hadassah team for diagnosing and analyzing quickly.” 

After the surgery, when she was feeling well, the girl said that “the treatment at Hadassah was very fast and good which was lucky for me and I feel great.

I hope my case will help others understand what a small thing can do and that if they suffer from this condition there are great doctors who know how to treat such cases."