While the word hysteria originates from the Greek word for uterus, hystera (ὑστέρα), the word itself is not an ancient one, and the term "hysterical suffocation" – meaning a feeling of heat and inability to breathe, was instead used in ancient Greek medicine. This suggests an entirely physical cause for the symptoms but, by linking them to the uterus, suggests that the disorder can only be found in women.
Historically, hysteria was thought to manifest itself in women (female hysteria) with a variety of symptoms, including: anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, insomnia, irritability, nervousness, as well as sexually forward behaviour. These symptoms mimic symptoms of other more definable diseases and create a case for arguing against the validity of hysteria as an actual disease, and it is often implied that it is an umbrella term for an indefinable illness. Through to the 20th century, however, the label hysteria was applied to a mental, rather than uterine or physical, affliction. Hysteria is no longer thought of as a real ailment.
The term hysterical, applied to an individual, can mean that he or she is emotional or irrationally upset; applied to a situation that does not involve panic, it means that situation is uncontrollably amusing (the connotation being that it invokes hysterical laughter).