The Validity of Hysterical Signs and Symptoms

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In an attempt to validate recent assertions that the strongest indicators of hysteria are the “positive” findings in the neurological examination, seven of the most accepted features (history of hypochondriasis, secondary gain, la belle indifference, nonanatomical sensory loss, split of midline by pain or vibratory stimulation, changing boundaries of hypalgesia, giveaway weakness) were sought in 30 consecutive neurology service admissions with acute structural nervous system damage. All subjects showed at least one of these findings; most presented three or four. The presence of these “positive” findings of hysteria in patients with acute structural brain disease invalidates their use as pathognomonic evidence of hysteria. A second, retrospective study on the misdiagnosis of hysteria demonstrated that women, homosexual men, the psychiatrically ill, and patients presenting plausible psychogenie explanations for their illness are most liable to be misdiagnosed. Certain disorders, particularly movement disorders and paralysis, are most often mislabeled as hysteria.

A diagnosis of hysteria must be made with great caution as it so often proves incorrect.

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