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Doctors untangle the strange case of the giant hairball

  • Story Highlights
  • Patient complained of weight loss, pain and vomiting after eating
  • Woman suffered from trichophagia: A habit of eating her hair
  • Doctors removed a 10-pound hairball from the patient's stomach
  • The woman is doing much better a year after the surgery
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(CNN) -- It may not be the most appetizing reading before a hearty holiday meal, but the New England Journal of Medicine is devoting part of its Thanksgiving issue to a giant hairball -- and not the feline kind.

art.hairball.nejm.jpg

Doctors say this hairball removed from a woman's stomach weighed 10 pounds.

The prestigious journal details the case of a previously healthy 18-year-old woman who consulted a team of gastrointestinal specialists.

She complained of a five-month history of pain and swelling in her abdomen, vomiting after eating and a 40-pound weight loss.

After a scan of the woman's abdomen showed a large mass, doctors lowered a scope through her esophagus.

It revealed "a large bezoar occluding nearly the entire stomach," wrote Drs. Ronald M. Levy and Srinadh Komanduri, gastroenterologists at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois.

For the uninitiated, a bezoar is a ball of swallowed foreign material.

"On questioning, the patient stated that she had had a habit of eating her hair for many years -- a condition called trichophagia," they wrote.

"It seemed like she'd been doing this for several years," Levy told CNN.

The woman underwent surgery to remove the mass of black, curly hair, which weighed 10 pounds and measured 15 inches by 7 inches by 7 inches, the doctors said.

Five days later, she was eating normally and was sent home.

A year later, the pain and vomiting were gone, the patient had regained 20 pounds "and reports that she has stopped eating her hair."

Reached at his home in Chicago, Levy said he had no idea whether the journal's timing of the publication on Thanksgiving was intentional.

Either way, he said, it would not affect the gastroenterologists' holiday dinner plans -- "We don't get fazed by much." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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