In archaic usage, the vapours (or vapors) is a reference to the treatment of certain mental or physical states, such as hysteria, mania, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, lightheadedness, fainting, flush, withdrawal syndrome, mood swings, or PMS, where a sufferer lost mental focus. Ascribed primarily to women and thought to be caused by internal emanations, it was related to the concept of female hysteria. Vapours were used as a treatment for conditions considered to be the female equivalent to melancholy found in men.
The word "vapours", referencing the treatment, was subsequently used to describe a depressed or hysterical nervous condition. Today, the phrase "a case of the vapors" is most often used either melodramatically or for comedic effect.
In the Victorian era, a variety of conditions which affected women were referred to as "a case for the vapours". Lady's tight corsets could squeeze their internal organs, including the lungs, and could restrict breathing causing the wearer to feel faint and to require "the vapours."
A description of someone having "a case of the vapours" was sometimes used for a person in a state of emotional agitation.
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