Vapours (disease)

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In archaic usage, the vapours (or vapors) is a reference to certain mental or physical states,[1] 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 (vapours) from the womb, it was related to the concept of female hysteria.

The word "vapours" was subsequently used to describe a depressed or hysterical nervous condition.[2] Today, the phrase "a case of the vapors" is most often used either melodramatically or for comedic effect.

Victorian era[edit]

In the Victorian era, a variety of conditions which affected women were referred to as "a case of the vapours". Ladies' tight corsets could squeeze their internal organs, including the lungs, and could restrict breathing causing the wearer to feel faint and suffer "the vapours".

A Treatise of Vapours or Hysterick Fits[3], by John Purcell, published in 1707, describes the various conditions described as "vapours", with treatments.

A description of someone having "a case of the vapours" was sometimes used for a person in a state of emotional agitation.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vapors". Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  2. ^ "Vapors". MerriamWebster Medical Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  3. ^ A Treatise of Vapours or Hysterick Fits
  4. ^ Jonathan Edwards; John Angell James; William Patton (D.D.) (1839). Edwards on Revivals; containing a Faithful Narrative ... Also, Thoughts on the revival of religion ... p. 41. 

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