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What Is a Bezoar?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2016
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A bezoar is a collection of swallowed foreign material that does not pass through the intestines. For a bezoar to form, a person must eat a great deal of indigestible items like hair or plastic bags. Bezoars are most commonly found in preteen and teenage girls, and mentally handicapped people are more likely to eat inedible objects. A person likely has a bezoar if he or she has a habit of eating hair or the fluffy filling of cushions and stuffed animals, in addition to experiencing stomach aches, pain, or nausea. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove the mass, but occasionally a health professional can pull it out through the mouth with a scope.

Normally, people are diagnosed with having a bezoar based on their symptoms, any conditions they may have, and sometimes the presence of abdominal lumps. For example, some common side effects of having a lump of indigestible matter in the body are nausea, pain, and constipation. In addition, a person with a habit of eating hair or couch cushion filling is more likely to have bezoars than someone with no history of consuming inedible objects. Lastly, sometimes a bezoar is made obvious by a lump in the abdomen, which can be seen or felt by rubbing the general area.

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One health condition that can result in bezoars is called trichophagia, which is a compulsive need to eat hair, be it one’s own hair or someone else’s. People with this condition generally pull out the hair by the roots, then rub it against their lips or chew it before swallowing. A potential result of eating a lot of hair is Rapunzel syndrome, a blockage formed because of a hairball. This syndrome is very rare with fewer than two dozen documented cases, but small children are most susceptible. The syndrome's name was derived from a German fairytale in which a girl named Rapunzel has unnaturally long hair.

Especially large bezoars are normally removed via surgery, while smaller ones are removed through the patient’s mouth with a scope. In most cases, people recover completely and the patient’s hair must be cut short or all stuffed objects taken away to prevent future occurrences. Sometimes, in very rare cases, people die from bezoar blockages or after invasive surgery to remove large bezoars. Many people eventually grow out of eating hair or fuzzy fibers, but it is possible for the problem to be lifelong, especially with mentally handicapped people.

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