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Trichorrhexis Nodosa Workup

  • Author: Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 21, 2016

Laboratory Studies

Light and electron microscopy of the affected areas reveal a decreased or absent cuticular cell layer and the characteristic paintbrush bristle appearance of trichorrhexis nodosa. More precisely, it resembles a crushed paint brush and is called a "paint brush fracture."[2] In patients with underlying trichothiodystrophy, polarized light shows the typical appearance of alternating light and dark bands on the shaft, the so-called tiger-tail pattern.[24] Fungal microscopy and culture may be performed if necessary. Patients suspected of having an underlying congenital disorder because of a young age at onset and because of the presence of associated symptoms warrant further investigation.

Analysis of the hair shaft may reveal a chemical deficiency caused by a metabolic disorder (eg, low sulfur level in trichothiodystrophy). Serum and urine amino acid levels should be investigated.

Other blood tests may include copper level tests, iron studies, blood cell counts, and liver and thyroid function tests.


Imaging Studies

A CT of the brain and an EEG may aid in diagnosis if mental retardation is present.

Tortuous intracranial vessels and bladder diverticula may be present at early stages and may suggest this diagnosis.[25]


Other Tests

Dermoscopy shows breakage in hair shafts at multiple levels, producing an appearance suggestive of the ends of 2 brushes aligned in opposition, resembling “thrust paint brushes.”[17, 18, 26] High-power magnification demonstrates these fibers in detail, while at low power, these structures appear as light-colored nodules or gaps located along the hair shaft.[18]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

David F Butler, MD Section Chief of Dermatology, Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System; Professor of Dermatology, Texas A&M University College of Medicine; Founding Chair, Department of Dermatology, Scott and White Clinic

David F Butler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, Alpha Omega Alpha, Association of Military Dermatologists, American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for MOHS Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Paul Krusinski, MD Director of Dermatology, Fletcher Allen Health Care; Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Vermont College of Medicine

Paul Krusinski, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

William D James, MD Paul R Gross Professor of Dermatology, Vice-Chairman, Residency Program Director, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

William D James, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Leonard Sperling, MD Chair, Professor, Department of Dermatology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Leonard Sperling, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Bryan D Seiff, MD Staff Physician, Department of Ophthalmology, NY Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell

Bryan D Seiff, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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