advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Mass Hysteria Mystery?

I've heard on the news about the outbreak of mass hysteria among teenage girls in New York State. Is this for real? What causes it? Could they really have Tourette's syndrome?

A
Answer (Published 3/13/2012)

The widely reported cases of mass hysteria in a small town near Buffalo began in the fall of 2011 when some girls attending Le Roy Junior/Senior High School began to show symptoms of Tourette's syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder marked by "tics" - involuntary movements and vocalizations. News accounts said that the girls' symptoms included painful shaking as well as jerking of their necks.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

In a months-long investigation school and state officials tested the school building for high levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, mold, bacteria and volatile organic compounds, but all of the tests were negative. According to the Buffalo News the affected girls were screened and diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist who consulted with national experts with assistance from the New York State Health Department. The girls had little in common and didn't know each other although, reportedly, some of them may have seen others with symptoms.

The term "hysteria" was coined by Hippocrates, circa 400 BC, to describe illness in unmarried women then believed to be caused by a "wondering womb." Symptoms included convulsions, twitching, muscle spasms, abdominal cramps nausea, and headaches that typically spread quickly to other women in the vicinity.

During the Middle Ages, outbreaks of mass hysteria were called the St. Vitus Dance, and the twitching was viewed as a curse due to sinfulness. Later, in early colonial days the same phenomenon among young girls in Salem, Mass., was blamed on witches' curses.

More recent outbreaks have occurred in factories, offices and, most often, in schools and are usually blamed on "toxic fumes, gasses or chemicals" or "environmental pollutants" that are never identified, often after exhaustive research.

Investigation of the cases in Buffalo now involves a review of contaminated soil stored in metal drums, a connection that remains speculative and is likely to prove unrelated.

Mass hysteria is nothing new. Episodes often start with a trigger such as a bad smell, a rumor of exposure to some poison or even a bug bite. While the phenomenon may be hysterical, the victims really are sick. They're not imagining their symptoms, and they're not mentally ill. The cause is stress and the effect of others on how we feel. Mass hysteria, also called mass psychogenic illness or conversion disorder, is diagnosed when no abnormalities show up on physical exams and medical tests, and no outside agent, such as a pollutant, can be found. It is often compared to stage fright, when performers suffer from breathing problems and stomach upsets prior to going on stage or in front of a camera.

Typically, outbreaks of mass hysteria end when patients are reassured that they haven't contracted any infectious disease or haven't been poisoned. Medical experts on the scene said they expected all the affected girls in Le Roy to get better.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here