Terminology

Despite being abandoned as a nosological entity, hysteria is still commonly used as a generic label for the occurrence of medically unexplained symptoms. The continuing popularity of the term is viewed with regret by many. First, it implies that medically unexplained symptoms are an exclusively female phenomenon, despite the fact that somatoform illness is observed in both men and women (although much more commonly in the latter). Second, the terms hysteria and hysterical have acquired different and pejorative meanings in popular parlance that no longer apply to medically unexplained symptoms. Not surprisingly, many individuals suffering from such symptoms strongly object to the use of the hysterical label.

In addition to hysteria and the diagnostic labels provided in DSM, many other terms have been used in relation to medically unexplained symptoms, including functional, nonorganic, psychosomatic, and psycho-genic, each of which is ambiguous or has unfortunate connotations. For the sake of neutrality and descriptive ease, we use somatoform illness and unexplained medical symptoms as labels encompassing the range of phenomena described in the somatoform disorder category; we use unexplained neurological symptoms as a label for those phenomena specifically included in the conversion disorder category. We use the term soma-tization to refer to the process underlying the generation of unexplained medical symptoms.

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