New Latin, from English hysteric, adjective, from Latin hystericus, from Greek hysterikos, from hystera womb; from the Greek notion that hysteria was peculiar to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus
- 1: a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions
- 2: behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess <political hysteria>
Hysteria, in its colloquial use, describes unmanageable emotional excesses. People who are "hysterical" often lose self-control due to an overwhelming fear that may be caused by multiple events in one's past that involved some sort of severe conflict; the fear can be centered on a body part, or, most commonly, on an imagined problem with that body part. Disease is a common complaint; see also Body dysmorphic disorder and Hypochondriasis. Generally, modern medical professionals have given up the use of "hysteria" as 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".
The term also occurs in the phrase mass hysteria to describe mass public near-panic reactions. It is commonly applied to the waves of popular medical problems that "everyone gets" in response to news articles. A similar usage refers to any sort of "public wave" phenomenon, and has been used to describe the periodic widespread reappearance and public interest in UFO reports, crop circles, and similar examples. Hysteria was often associated with events like the Salem Witch Trials, or slave revolt conspiracies, where it is better understood through the related sociological term of moral panic.