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Hysteria, hysterectomy, and anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis: a modern perspective on an infamous chapter in medicine

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3756 (Published 20 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3756
  1. Thomas A Pollak, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK
  1. thomas.pollak{at}kcl.ac.uk

The presumed relationship between the female reproductive organs and states of insanity casts a dark shadow over the history of medicine. It perhaps reached its grim apotheosis in the late 1800s, when gynaecologists conducted hysterectomies, oophorectomies, and clitoridectomies for all manner of nervous diseases.

As all students of psychiatry are taught, “hysteria” shares its origin with the Greek word for womb, and it was with dysfunction of the reproductive organs that the origins of the peculiar emotional states and bizarre …

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