When doctors at a hospital in Bokaro district in the Indian state of Jharkhand operated on 17-year-old Sweety Kumari for the removal of a 'tumor', they discovered something beyond their wildest imagination.

What the doctors believed was a cancerous tumor that was causing the teenager severe abdominal distress, turned out to be a ball of her own hair! It weighed nearly 7 kilograms—the weight of a 5-month-old baby.

Not a Tumor? What is it?

Hair
Hair (Representational Picture) Pixabay

Nearly three years ago, after an ultrasound scan, the doctors diagnosed the lump as a tumor. The bizarre ball of hair came to light when the girl was taken to a private hospital after complaining of severe stomach pain and required to be operated upon immediately.

A team headed by Dr. G N Sahu carried out the 6-hour long surgery. However, what the doctors found was not a tumor but rather a massive ball of Sweety's own hair. Dr.Sahu, who has been a physician for nearly 40 years, said that he had not seen such a large accumulation of hair in the abdomen in his career.

Hairball
Hairball inside then stomach (Representational Picture) Youtube Screengrab/Dr. Shambhu Nawal

According to the Metro, doctors stated that the girl had the habit of chewing on her own hair. Over a period of time, the lump of hair gradually accumulated inside her abdomen, lacing the stomach completely. The girl is expected to make a quick recovery now and will be discharged after an examination.

Loving Your Hair Like Rapunzel

As peculiar as Sweety's case may be, her condition is not unheard of. She is believed to be suffering from an extremely rare condition known as Rapunzel syndrome, named after the popular character from the German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. It is an intestinal condition where an individual compulsively ingests own hair.

Hairball
Hairball (Representational Picture) Youtube Screengrab/Dr. Shambhu Nawal

As the human gastrointestinal tract lacks the ability to digest hair, the ingested hair accumulates in the stomach and grows into a hairball over time. The increasing size of the mass leads to abdominal distress and may require surgical intervention. Patients may also require psychiatric assistance as the syndrome is often linked to impulse control disorders.

The condition is considered extremely rare and there are very few documented cases. One of the most recently reported cases was that of a 16-year-old Siberian girl from the city of Tomsk in 2019. The Sun reported that Dr. Andrey Karavaev, who treated the girl, said that 80 percent of her stomach was filled with a massive hairball and her gastrointestinal tract was obstructed almost entirely. An emergency surgery had to be performed to save her life.

Sadly, not all patients may be lucky enough to survive the ordeal. A 16-year-old girl from Skegness in the UK died due to the condition. The Lincolnshire Live reported that the girl was rushed to the hospital. However, she succumbed to the infection caused by the hairball in her stomach.