Index of Culture-Bound Syndromes by Symptoms
This index groups the major culture-bound syndromes by symptoms.
I borrow the term taxon from Ronald Simons. A taxon is a set
of similar syndromes which share symptoms and are presumably
related, but the term taxon does not specify whether the syndromes
are merely variant manifestations of the same disease (as pneumonic
and bubonic forms of plague, Yersinia pestis infection), or
are different diseases with similar mechanisms (as Type I and Type
II diabetes), or are related in some more complicated way. I also
borrow Ronald Simons' terms for several of the taxa: "startle
matching", "genital retraction", "sudden mass assault", and
"running". To these, I add the "semen loss", "food restriction",
"spirit possession", "obsession with the deceased", "exhaustion",
and "suppressed rage" taxa.
Index of Taxa:
Startle Matching Taxon
- latah: (Malaysia and Indonesia) hypersensitivity to
sudden fright, often with echopraxia, echolalia, command obedience,
and dissociative or trancelike behavior. The Malaysian syndrome is
more frequent in middle-aged women.
- amurakh, irkunii, ikota, olan
myriachit, and menkeiti (Siberian groups)
- bah-tschi, bah-tsi, and baah-ji (Thailand)
- imu (Ainu & Sakhalin, Japan)
- mali-mali and silok (Philippines).
- koro: (Malaysia) an episode of sudden and intense anxiety
that the penis (or in the rare female cases, the vulva and nipples)
will recede into the body and possibly cause death. The syndrome
occasionally occurs in local epidemics.
- suo yang (China)
- jinjinia bemar (Assam)
- rok-joo (Thailand)
- Also, idiopathic cases throughout the world.
- pibloktoq or Arctic hysteria: (Greenland Eskimos)
an abrupt dissociative episode accompanied by extreme excitement of
up to 30 minutes' duration and frequently followed by convulsive
seizures and coma lasting up to 12 hours. The individual may be
withdrawn or mildly irritable for a period of hours or days before
the attack and will typically report complete amnesia for the
attack. During the attack, the individual may tear off his or her
clothing, break furniture, shout obscenities, eat feces, flee from
protective shelters, or perform other irrational or dangerous acts.
- grisi siknis: (Miskito Indians, Nicaragua) symptoms
include headache, anxiety, anger, aimless running. Similar to
- dhat and jiryan: (India) semen-loss syndromes,
characterized by severe anxiety and hypochondriacal concerns with
the discharge of semen, whitish discoloration of the urine, and
feelings of weakness and exhaustion.
- sukra prameha (Sri Lanka).
- shenkui (Chinese): marked anxiety or panic symptoms with
accompanying somatic complaints for which no physical cause can be
demonstrated. Symptoms include dizziness, backache, fatiguability,
general weakness, insomnia, frequent dreams, and complaints of
sexual dysfunction (such as premature ejaculation and impotence).
Symptoms are attributed to excessive semen loss from frequent
intercourse, masturbation, nocturnal emission, or passing of "white
turbid urine" believed to contain semen. Excessive semen loss is
feared because it represents the loss of one's vital essence and can
thereby be life threatening.
- anorexia nervosa: (North America, Western Europe,
Australia) syndrome of food restriction, morbid fear of obesity, and
extreme weight loss. May be fatal. Especially common among
adolescent girls and young women.
- Also, idiopathic cases throughout the world.
- bulimia nervosa: (North America, Western Europe,
Australia) syndrome of binge eating and subsequent purging through
self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics. Also includes
morbid fear of obesity, and may overlap in course or symptoms with
- anorexia mirabilis or holy anorexia: (medieval
Europe) syndrome of extreme fasting motivated by religious
devotion. Terms are modern, not medieval, and the syndrome was
often not perceived as pathological.
- orthorexia: diagnostic category proposed for DSM-V, describes excessive or debilitating preoccupation with "correct" and "healthy" eating, including maintaining unusual diets or obsessing about whether food is "organic" food, contains additives and preservatives, etc., or counting calories/carbohydrates/fat obsessively while maintaining a normal weight.
- spell: (southern U.S.) a trance state in which
individuals "communicate" with deceased relatives or with spirits.
At times this is associated with brief periods of personality
change. Spells are not considered medical events in the folk
tradition, but may be misconstrued as psychotic episodes in a
- zar: (Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Iran, and
elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East) experience of spirit
possession. Symptoms may include dissociative episodes with
laughing, shouting, hitting the head against a wall, singing, or
weeping. Individuals may show apathy and withdrawal, refusing to
eat or carry out daily tasks, or may develop a long-term
relationship with the possessing spirit. Such behavior is not
necessarily considered pathological locally.
- ghost sickness: (American Indian groups) preoccupation
with death and the deceased, sometimes associated with witchcraft.
Symptoms may include bad dreams, weakness, feelings of danger, loss
of appetite, fainting, dizziness, fear, anxiety, hallucinations,
loss of consciousness, confusion, feelings of futility, amd a sense
- hsieh-ping: (Taiwan) a brief trance state during which
one is possessed by an ancestral ghost, who often attempts to
communicate to other family members. Symptoms include tremor,
disorientation and delirium, and visual or auditory hallucinations.
- shin-byung: (Korea) syndrome characterized by anxiety and
somatic complaints (general weakness, dizziness, fear, loss of
appetite, insomnia, and gastrointestinal problems), followed by
dissociation and possession by ancestral spirits.
- neurasthenia: (19th-century U.S.)
- brain fag or brain fog: (West Africa) a condition
experience by high school or university students. Symtoms include
difficulties in concentrating, remembering, and thinking. Students
often state that their brains are "fatigued". Additional symptoms
center around the head and neck and include pain, pressure,
tightness, blurring of vision, heat, or burning.
- shenjian shuairuo: (China) Symptoms include physical and
mental fatigue, dizziness, headaches and other pains, difficulty
concentrating, sleep disturbance, and memory loss. Other symptoms
include gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, irritability,
excitability, and various signs suggesting disturbances of the
autonomic nervous system.
- hwa-byung or wool-hwa-bung: (Korea) "anger
syndrome". Symptoms are attributed to suppression of anger and
include insomnia, fatigue, panic, fear of impending death, dysphoric
affect, indigestion, anorexia, dyspnea, palpitations, generalized
aches and pains, and a feeling of a mass in the epigastrium.
- bilis and colera: part of a general Latin American
idiom of distress and explanation of physical or mental illness as a
result of extreme emotion, which upsets the humors (described in
terms of hot and cold.) Bilis and colera specifically implicate
anger in the cause of illness.