human behavior

New word: globus hystericus

Posted in Health & Medicine, New Word by humanb on April 30, 2010

globus (Latin)
: spherical object, globe

hystericus (Greek)
: from hustera, meaning ‘uterus’

globus hystericus
: difficulty swallowing; a sensation of a lump in the throat
: a symptom of conversion disorder

The word hystericus is related to the words hysteria and hysterectomy – the latter being the surgical removal of the uterus.  Apparently, hysteria was believed to be an exclusively female problem of uterine origin until the 17th century.

According to Wikipedia:

The term hysteria was coined by Hippocrates, who thought that suffocation and madness arose in women whose uteri had become too light and dry from lack of sexual intercourse and, as a result, wandered upward, compressing the heart, lungs, and diaphragm. The belief was that hysterical symptoms would emanate from the part of the body in which the wandering uterus lodged itself.

The same general definition… came into use in the middle and late 19th century…. Typical treatment was massage of the patient’s genitalia by the physician and later vibrators or water sprays to cause orgasm.


Today we use the phrase globus hystericus to refer to the sensation in general of a lump in the throat due to any cause: psychological or mechanical. It may be due to spasm of the constrictor muscle of the pharynx (throat). A patient may feel it post-operatively after being intubated, or before surgery due to anxiety. It’s hardly a feeling unique to women.

The word hysteria has fallen out of fashion in psychology. Psychiatrists more often speak of ‘conversion disorders’ which are psychological disorders characterized by physical symptoms of psychological origin.

But the underlying sexism is still in fashion.

After all, when was the last time you heard a man described as hysterical?


2 Responses

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  1. […] social observations and, um, reflections on medical discourse. As a Freudian, I was drawn to a post about a new medical name: globus hystericus. The author detects a trace of sexism in the use of the […]

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