Information on the causes of somatization disorder and hysteria disorder.

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  1. What is Hysteria?
  2. Diagnosing Hysteria
  3. What Causes Hysteria?
  4. Help for Hysteria
  5. More Information on Hysteria

What is Hysteria?

Hysteria is a somewhat controversial and outdated term, the meaning of which has been adapted and changed over time.

While the term Hysteria is seldom used in reference to a medical condition today, the concept still remains and what was once the diagnosable condition Hysteria disorder is now more acceptably know as a somatization disorder or histrionic personality disorder.

Diagnosing Hysteria

The medical use of the term Hysteria has slowly been discontinued and it is no longer considered a diagnosable condition. There are however a number of psychological ailments that have replaced the core ideas behind the original concept of Hysteria.

While it has been established that the term Hysteria is dated and no longer used on a medical level, it is still commonly used in everyday conversation. We often hear about someone who was crying hysterically or has had a hysterical outburst.

In this sense of the word, hysteria is used to describe extreme anxiety, outrage or anger and loss of self-control. This is often seen after severe trauma, or during a moment of panic or extreme stress. Hysteria symptoms often resemble those of a panic attack as the individual is over-whelmed by a physical reaction that is triggered by an emotional event.

Symptoms of Hysteria
  • Hysterical convulsions (fits)
  • Sensory disturbances such as tunnel vision, dulled or heightened senses
  • Pounding heart
  • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dizziness or feeling like you’re going to faint
  • Feelings of unreality or detachment
  • Feelings of losing control

Parents may even recognize hysteria symptoms in children after extreme tantrums or in excessively upset or traumatized children who are very difficult to calm down.

A thorough assessment is recommended during which time is spent discussing hysteria symptoms, feelings and concerns with a physician. It is important not to make a self-diagnosis. The first step would be to receive a full medical check-up from a physician to make sure that there are no underlying medical causes of the symptoms.

Hysteria treatment will be prescribed once physical health is established and all necessary tests have come back negative. Consult a psychologist or psychiatrist who will perform a full assessment and diagnose you accordingly. Remember to ask about all hysteria treatment options and try to research the topic so that you feel fully informed about your condition.

What is Mass Hysteria?

Mass Hysteria is the term used to describe the occurrence of large scale outbreaks of strange or out of the ordinary behavior. This is a puzzling phenomenon that has perplexed physicians and psychologists alike.

It is best described as emotional contagion, and masses of people have been known to display the same physical and mental symptoms during or after an event. This is common in religious festivals, riots or sports matches where one individual often instigates a behavior and the rest of the group then mimics that person’s behavior.

This has often resulted in mass violence, excitement or outbreak of disease-like symptoms (without organic cause). For example, one reported case involved a school being closed and numerous children and teachers being rushed to hospital with nausea, vomiting and dizziness after a reported gas leak.

The incident started with one pupil’s complaint of dizziness and an odd smell of gas from a vent. Shortly after, other people began to experience the same symptoms and many were rushed to hospital. On inspection, no gas leak was found and all symptoms suddenly disappeared.

With a mass event, hysteria treatment involved separating the individuals. Once the group is dispersed or the truth of the situation is revealed people quickly recover and in some cases people are left feeling totally bewildered that they acted so out of character.

What Causes Hysteria?

There are a number of psychological ailments that have replaced the core ideas behind the original concept of hysteria disorders, and they tend to have varied causes.

As more research has been performed on the topic, the concept of hysteria disorders has been divided into two types of condition, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Somatization Disorders.

Histrionic Personality Disorder

People with histrionic personality disorder often come across as attention seeking or overly-dramatic. They may be inclined to express their emotions in an exaggerated or theatrical manner and they are often seen as self-centered or overly concerned about their physical appearance.

While their behavior is often charming and inviting at first (as their enthusiasm and seductiveness is appealing), their relationships often remain shallow and may be short-lived once people realize their constant demand for attention and lack of authenticity. For these reasons, people with this disorder often function well socially or at work, but may have difficulties in inter-personal relationships.

The symptoms of histrionic personality disorder may include:

  • Constantly seeking approval or reassurance
  • Overly dramatic behavior with exaggerated expressions of emotion
  • Excessive sensitivity to criticism or disapproval
  • Inappropriate sexually provocative or seductive appearance or behavior
  • Overly concerned with physical appearance, often using it to gain attention
  • Often feels uncomfortable if not the center of attention (self-centeredness)
  • Easily frustrated and expresses low tolerance for delayed gratification
  • Rapidly shifting and shallow expression of emotion
  • Easily influenced by others and suggestible
  • Tendency to consider relationships more intimate than they are
  • Tendency to make rash decisions grounded on emotional impulse
  • May threaten or attempt suicide to get attention

As with other personality disorders, people with histrionic personality disorder usually only seek treatment when high stress levels or other situational factors in their lives become overwhelming and they begin to struggle with interpersonal relationships or feel that they are unable to cope.

Treatment usually does not incorporate drug therapy and is most likely to include some form of psychotherapy.

Somatization Disorder

This rare psychological disorder is characterized by a seemingly endless list of physical complaints that do not seem to have a medical cause. Individuals suffering from somatoform or somatization disorder usually have a long medical history with various trips to physicians and specialists.

However, upon medical examination, the symptoms cannot be explained by an actual illness or physical injury. The following criteria have to be met for a diagnosis of somatization disorder:

  • A history of somatic symptoms before the age of 30 and which have extended over many years
  • Pain in at least four different sites on the body (such as backache, joint pain or chest pain)
  • Two gastrointestinal problems other than pain such as vomiting or diarrhea
  • One sexual symptom such as low libido or erectile dysfunction
  • One pseudo-neurological symptom similar to those seen in conversion disorder such as fainting, blindness, or paralysis.

People with somatization disorder are often not as concerned about what the symptoms may mean, but are rather troubled by the symptoms themselves. Unlike those with hypochondriasis, who are afraid of having an illness and jump into immediate action as a symptom arises, those with Somatization disorder do not greatly fear being ill, but find that the symptoms are troublesome and tiring in everyday life.

Conversion Disorder

Somewhat similar to somatization disorder, conversion disorder is a psychological ailment characterized by physical disabilities such as blindness, paralysis, or speech difficulties that do not have a medical cause.

While these complaints are very real to the inflicted individual, they do not have an organic cause such as brain or nerve damage and in many cases these individuals function normally.

For example, an individual may believe that he is blind, but will avoid objects in his visual field as if he is able to see. Another may be partially paralyzed, but when urgent need arises such as in the "fight or flight response", she may be able to move efficiently.

These people are not faking, but are totally unaware of their motor or sensory abilities. Another key aspect to conversion disorder is that these symptoms tend to follow conflicts or great stressors.

Pain Disorder

This disorder usually starts with pain that has a physical basis such as an accident or illness, but psychological factors maintain or exacerbate the pain well after physical healing has occurred.

It is important to note that while the pain may no longer have a physiological basis, it is none the less very painful and can become most debilitating.

Help for Hysteria

Treatment options ultimately depend on the specific diagnosis and severity of the disorder. In many somatoform disorders, treatment is aimed at symptom management which may include conventional drug therapies such as pain killers or OTC symptom relievers.

There are complementary and natural therapies that should be integrated with a healthy eating plan, exercise and rest for optimal effectiveness. Treatments usually deal with both the physical symptoms as well as mental conditions that are responsible for these symptoms.

Conventional Treatment Options
Drug therapy such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. Pain killers and other medication specific to varying symptoms may be prescribed. It must be said that certain conventional medications can cause side effects that may even worsen the symptoms, such as elevated heart rate or further symptoms of anxiety.


Psychotherapy or cognitive therapy can be extremely beneficial in addressing underlying emotional problems and psychological conflicts. The aim of treatment is often to apply positive thinking and learn strategies and techniques to cope with daily life. When the underlying anxieties are confronted and addressed, it no longer becomes necessary for the mind to ‘convert’ them into pain and other physical symptoms.  

More Information on Hysteria

People with any disorder related to hysteria generally suffer from high stress and anxiety. For this reason it is important that you attempt to deal with emotional issues head on and that you do your best not to "bottle" them up.

Try keeping a journal or talk out your worries as they arise with a psychologist or trusted friend. Sometimes simply the act of expressing and naming these feelings goes a long way in preventing them from manifesting physically.

Tips to Relieve Anxiety Associated with Hysteria
  • Try not to obsess about the physical symptoms as concentrating on them only makes the matter worse. When you find yourself beginning to focus on a symptom, distract yourself somehow by going for a walk, listening to music, or doing some other involved activity.
  • Regular exercise, sufficient sleep and a healthy balanced diet will all go a long way towards reducing anxiety and promoting a healthy body.
  • Speak openly to your family, friends and caregivers about your condition so that they will be able to empathize, understand and support you.
  • Learn and research as much as possible about your diagnosis so that you can gain a clear understanding about your condition and what you can come to expect.
  • Develop your interests! Because many people tend to become overly identified with their symptoms, it’s a good idea to find other things that give you a sense of identity and purpose. Try adopting a sport or hobby, and learn how to focus outside of yourself while keeping yourself busy.
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