The term "hysteria" has been in use for over 2,000 years and its definition has become broader and more diffuse over time. In modern psychology and psychiatry, hysteria is a feature of hysterical disorders in which a patient experiences physical symptoms that have a psychological, rather than an organic, cause; and histrionic personality disorder characterized by excessive emotions, dramatics, and attention-seeking behavior.
The outcome for hysterical disorders varies by type. Somatization is typically a lifelong disorder, while conversion disorder may last for months or years. Symptoms of hysterical disorders may suddenly disappear, only to reappear in another form later.
Histrionic personality disorder
Individuals with histrionic personality disorder may be at a higher risk for suicidal gestures, attempts, or threats in
Hysterical disorders frequently prove to be actual medical or neurological disorders, which makes it important to rule these disorders out before diagnosing a patient with hysterical disorders. In addition to a patient interview, several clinical inventories may be used to assess the patient for hysterical tendencies, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) or the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-III (MCMI-III). These tests may be administered in an outpatient or hospital setting by a psychiatrist or psychologist.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc., 1994.
Maxmen, Jerrold S., and Nicholas G. Ward. "Mood Disorders." In Essential Psychopathology and Its Treatment. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Shorter, Edward. From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era. New York: The Free Press, 1992.
Shorter, Edward. From the Mind Into the Body: The Cultural Origins of Psychosomatic Symptoms. New York: The Free Press, 1994.
American Psychiatric Association. 1400 K Street NW, Washington DC 20005. (888) 357-7924. <http://www.psych.org>.
American Psychological Association (APA). 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. (202) 336-5700. <http://www.apa.org>.
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Colonial Place Three, 2107 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 300, Arlington, VA 22201-3042. (800) 950-6264. <http://www.nami.org>.
Paula Anne Ford-Martin
Conversion disorder—A psychological disorder that alters motor or sensory functions. Paralysis, blindness, anesthesia (lack of feeling), coordination or balance problems, and seizures are all common symptoms of the disorder.
Somatization disorder—The appearance of physical symptoms in the gastrointestinal system, the nervous system, the cardiopulmonary system, or the reproductive system that have no organic cause.