ep.37 Can’t Be Tamed: The Wandering Womb

Here we are, at the root of it all. The piece of history that has defined women’s health for millennia. The wandering womb is a theory that can be traced back to the ancient Mediterranean, where it was believed and practiced. And while this story is fun and laughable at times, our history truly does define some of the grimmest parts of our future. Join us this week as we look at the wandering womb and talk about what it is, who is affected, how it was treated, and what diseases women have today that can be drawn back to this ancient idea.

Feminist Corner:

  • How do you feel this social pressure to be married/in a relationship is relevant for women today? 
  • How do you feel after this story and the recent events regarding abortion rights?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

The wandering womb can be looked at as a disease. So in this episode we will treat it as such. 

The Pathophysiology: 

  • Plato believed the penis and uterus to be animals, the latter taking out its hunger for childbearing on the woman. Causing torment and disease. 
  • Hippocrates believed in the four humors and the idea of warm vs cold within the body, leading to his belief that the womb was cold and needed to wander about the body to find warmth. 
  • Galen opposed the idea that the womb wandered and believed that women’s illness was due to the retaining of female seed.

The Etiology:

  • The main idea came down to, women who are unmarried and are not having regular sex (in the ancient world) are prone to having a wandering womb.

The Clinical Picture:

  • The symptoms of the disease are dependent on the organ affected. 
  • Hysterika pnix aka uterine suffocation is the true diagnosis, often presenting as: fatigue, weakness of the knees, dizziness, weakness of the limbs, headache, heartburn, choking, intermittent or absent pulse, loss of speech and sensibility, and sudden death”

The Treatment Regimen:

  • Magical and medical treatments per doctors orders.
  • Magical treatments focused mainly around amulets with spells and healing stones to be worn by the women.
  • Medical treatments involved using fumigation to lure the uterus back into the pelvis or having sex!

The Differential Diagnosis:

  • Often thought to be epilepsy due the ‘grand mal’ features of fainting and foaming at the mouth. Later, this was taken to be pseudo seizures or psychological seizures. Leading to the idea of hysteria.
  • Endometriosis, premenstrual disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder can all be tied to the history of the wandering womb

Sources:

Adair, M. (n.d.). Plato’s View of the “Wandering Uterus’. The Classical Journal , 91(2), 153–163.

Blundell, S. (1995). In Women in ancient Greece (pp. 98–112). essay, British Museum Press.

Fantham, E., & Dean-Jones, L. (2007). Medicine: The “Proof” of Anatomy . In Women in the classical world: Image and text (pp. 183–205). essay, Oxford University Press.

Guidone, H. C. (1970, January 1). The womb wanders not: Enhancing endometriosis education in a culture of menstrual misinformation. SpringerLink. Retrieved July 24, 2022, from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_22

Hamblin, J. (2012, October 16). PMS and the wandering womb. The Atlantic. Retrieved July 24, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/10/pms-and-the-wandering-womb/263398/

Hanson, A. E. (n.d.). Hippocrates: Diseases of Women . Signs, 1(2), 567`-584.

Mattern, S. P. (2014). Panic and culture:hysterike pnixin the ancient greek world. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 70(4), 491–515. https://doi.org/10.1093/jhmas/jru029

Meek, H. (n.d.). Of Wandering Wombs and Wrongs of Women: Evolving Conceptions of Hysteria in the Age of Reason.

Nakken, K. O., & Villagran, A. (2021, March 8). From hysteroepilepsy to non-epileptic seizure. Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening. Retrieved July 24, 2022, from https://tidsskriftet.no/en/2021/03/sprakspalten/hysteroepilepsy-non-epileptic-seizure

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