It's called the Rapunzel syndrome, but there's nothing fairytale-like about the condition. In layman's terms, it's a massive hairball that extends from one's stomach into the small intestine or beyond. As io9 explained in 2013, hair is made of keratin, a substance so steely that the human body can't break it down—nor can it move it out of the digestive system, possibly because "it's too slippery to get pulled out along with the rest of the stomach contents." Just how long one of these hairballs, called a trichobezoar, can be is made clear by the removal of one from a 15-year-old girl in India: It measured 5 feet in length. The Mirror shares the fairly graphic story of Kavita Kumari, a teen whose hair-swallowing addiction was so severe she allegedly ate the hair of her classmates as well as her own.
When the 15-year-old experienced a protruding stomach and severe pain, her parents began taking her to doctors and ultimately to a hospital in Uttar Pradesh. A CT scan there revealed the hairball, as well as a sizable lesion. "Her condition was so bad that I had told her parents she might not make it through the surgery," says Dr. Lal Bahadur Sidharth, who described the teen as so weak she could hardly stand. But Kavita did indeed make it through the two-hour surgery, and the Mirror reports she should be able to eat again soon, which she apparently hadn't been able to do. A 2009 study in Clinical Medicine & Research found that "trichobezoar with Rapunzel syndrome is an uncommon diagnosis in children with less than 40 cases reported." A 9-pound hairball was recovered in one patient last year. (Read more hairball stories.)