Tennessee girl's rare disorder triggered by brushing hair

A Tennessee woman who was helping her younger sister get ready for church said she initially thought the 10-year-old was joking when she slumped forward while having her hair curled. But Gracie Brown was actually suffering a very real medical episode, which was brought on by her hair being styled.

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“It was so strange, but about four minutes into me styling her hair with my curling wand, I noticed her slump forward and close her eyes,” Alicia Phillips, of Clinton, told SWNS.

Alicia Phillips was curling her sister Gracie's hair before church when she suddenly slumped forward.

Alicia Phillips was curling her sister Gracie's hair before church when she suddenly slumped forward. (SWNS)

Phillips said her sister fell unconscious and she caught her as she fell.

“At first I thought she was joking around, but then I got really worried. We rushed to the emergency room and the doctor diagnosed her with hair-grooming syncope.”

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Children and adolescents typically experience one episode of fainting before reaching their 18th birthday, which is typically the result of a lack of blood flow to the brain. While this can be caused by dehydration or skipping meals, it can also occur by standing up too fast, overheating, low red blood counts, holding breath, or in the case of Gracie Phillips, brushing or combing hair.

“Events that occur when hair is being combed, even if accompanied by jerking, are almost certainly ‘hair-grooming syncope,’ and not seizures,” according to MedicalHomePortal.org.

Children who experience hair-grooming syncope are advised to sit when having hair brushed or combed by someone else, and getting up slowly after. And that while the family had never heard of hair-grooming syncope, doctors at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville assured them that it has happened before.

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Phillips said that they have to be “extra careful” whenever Gracie is doing her hair.

“But she still needs to brush it,” she told SWNS. “She can’t walk around with a birds’ next on her head.”