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"Hysteria" in Clinical Neurology

     François M Mai

Abstract:   Hysteria is an ancient word for a common clinical condition. Although it no longer appears in official diagnostic classifications, "hysteria" is used here as a generic term to cover both "somatoform" and "dissociative" disorders as these are related psychopathological states. This paper reviews the clinical features of four hysterical syndromes known to occur in a neurologist's practice, viz conversion, somatization and pain disorders, and psychogenic amnesia. The presence in the clinical history of a multiplicity of symptoms, prodromal stress, a "model" for the symptom(s), and secondary reinforcement all suggest the diagnosis, and minimise the need for extensive investigations to rule out organic disease. Psychodynamic, behavioral, psychophysiologic and genetic factors have been proffered to explain etiology. Appropriate treatment involves psychotherapeutic, behavioral and pharmacological techniques. A basic requirement is to avoid errors of commission such as multiple specialist referrals and invasive diagnostic and treatment procedures. Hysteria is a remediable condition if identified early and managed appropriately.

Can. J. Neurol. Sci. 1995; 22: 101-110


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