Hysteria colloquially means ungovernable emotional excess. Generally, modern medical professionals have abandoned using the term "hysteria" to denote a diagnostic category, replacing it with more precisely defined categories, such as somatization disorder. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association officially changed the diagnosis of "hysterical neurosis, conversion type" to "conversion disorder".
While the word hysteria originates from the Greek word for uterus, hystera (ὑστέρα), the word itself is not an ancient one, and the term "hysterical suffocation" – meaning a feeling of heat and inability to breathe, was instead used in ancient Greek medicine. The Greeks believed that the uterus moves through a woman's body, eventually strangling her and inducing disease. This suggests an entirely physical cause for the symptoms but, by linking them to the uterus, suggests that the disorder can only be found in women.
Historically, hysteria was thought to manifest itself in women (female hysteria) with a variety of symptoms, including: anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, insomnia, irritability, nervousness, as well as sexually forward behaviour. These symptoms mimic symptoms of other more definable diseases and create a case for arguing against the validity of hysteria as an actual disease, and it is often implied that it is an umbrella term for an indefinable illness. One of the early definitive works on hysteria was Paul Briquet's study involving 400 hysterical patients from 1849 to 1859.
Through to the 20th century, however, the label hysteria was applied to a mental, rather than uterine or physical, affliction.
The term hysterical, applied to an individual, can mean that they are emotional or irrationally upset; applied to a situation that does not involve panic, it means that situation is uncontrollably amusing (the connotation being that it invokes hysterical laughter).
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