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what is Hysteria ?

Hysteria can be described as a type of psychoneurosis (minor mental health problem) causing emotional excitability, such as fear or panic, and disturbance of the sensory, motor and psychic functions of humans. It is described as an overwhelming and unmanageable excitable behaviour and has no organic basis.

Medically, the term hysteria is no longer used. The disorder is broadly divided two: somatization disorder and histrionic personality disorder.

The father of medicine – Hippocrates gave hysteria its name, as he thought it was limited to women and was somehow connected to the movements of the uterus (wandering uterus); in Greek the word for uterus is ‘hystera’.

Despite extensive research on patients with hysteria, researchers haven’t found neurological evidence for the disorder. Thus, a psychiatrist is the best specialist to diagnose and treat hysteria

Causes of hysteria

  • Past trauma
  • Conflict
  • Undue stress
  • History of abus
  • Another theory proposed to be a cause of hysteria is repression of sexual or aggressive behavior, which could have brought on a conversion disorder.

Symptoms and signs of hysteria

Histrionic personality disorder is one of many personality disorders. People who fall into this category are socially a success, but a failure at inter-personal relationships. They tend to dress and be provocative and talk about their emotions in an exaggerated fashion. They are usually shallow, self-centred and unhappy when they are not the centre of attention.

Somatization disorder is a rare psychological condition where the individual has a long list of medical complaints but upon examination and investigation, no medical cause can be attributed to it. Symptoms include various aches, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, sexual complaints like low libido and erectile dysfunction. Some of the common symptoms are mentioned below.

  • Partial paralysis
  • Temporary blindness or tunnel vision.
  • Sensory disturbances like heightened sense of sight, smell, touch and taste.
  • Involuntary movements like eyeball rolling inwards, contracted facial muscles.
  • Abnormal muscle contractions causing person to have unnatural positions, for e.g. the leg may be folded backwards.

Diagnosing hysteria

The physician will take a thorough history of the symptoms causing concern to the person after which there will be a thorough examination. Investigations may be advised if a certain problem is suspected. If the examination and investigations are inconclusive, the physician may recommend a consultation with a psychiatrist or psychologist for further evaluation.

Some might feel that because there is no abnormal finding, the patient is faking it to just draw attention. But it is important to understand that the patient is disturbed, and wants the problem to go away.



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