Hysteria is a disease that was believed until the late 19th century to be a disease unique to women due to a pathology of the uterus (hystera is Greek for uterus). The most common symptom was mental disturbance (such as extreme moods) accompanied by shortness of breath, vaginal dryness, nervousness, insomnia, oedema, faintness and many more. The treatment back then was for a physician to massage or stimulate the patient’s vagina to induce an orgasm. By the 19th century, the treatment evolved and involved vibrators and water massage machines.
This disease was first noted by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. Galen, another famous physician in the 2nd century, believed it to be caused by sexual deprivation. Thus, sexual intercourse was prescribed as treatment in the Middle Ages.
Modern medicine no longer recognises hysteria as a medical condition and is now referred to as sexual dysfunction (the sexual treatments described above are no longer used either). However, there is a condition called mass hysteria that indeed exists.
This is a psychological phenomenon rather than a disease, commonly occurring in closed spaces such as planes or in crowds in a state of panic. When a high tension situation arises, people easily become delusional and believe that they are suffering from a disease. The body reacts to this with actual symptoms such as a psychosomatic rash. These symptoms can be as severe as fevers, vomiting and even paralysis.
If many people are all complaining of similar symptoms and infectious disease seems unlikely, there is an easy way of diagnosing mass hysteria. Tell the patients that they have a rare disease and begin listing the symptoms they complain of. At the end, make up a false symptom (e.g. “shaking of the left hand”). If the patients all suddenly start to shake their left hands (which causes them to panic more), it is likely that their panicking brain is causing the symptoms rather than some pathogen. Symptoms subside after the patients relax.
Interestingly, mass hysteria affects women much more than men.