ⓘ Culture-bound syndrome


ⓘ Culture-bound syndrome

In medicine and medical anthropology, a culture-bound syndrome, culture-specific syndrome, or folk illness is a combination of psychiatric and somatic symptoms that are considered to be a recognizable disease only within a specific society or culture. There are no objective biochemical or structural alterations of body organs or functions, and the disease is not recognized in other cultures. The term culture-bound syndrome was included in the fourth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which also includes a list of the most common culture-bound conditions. Counterpart within the framework of ICD-10 are the culture-specific disorders defined in Annex 2 of the Diagnostic criteria for research.

More broadly, an endemic that can be attributed to certain behavior patterns within a specific culture by suggestion may be referred to as a potential behavioral epidemic. As in the cases of drug use, or alcohol and smoking abuses, transmission can be determined by communal reinforcement and person-to-person interactions. On etiological grounds, it can be difficult to distinguish the causal contribution of culture upon disease from other environmental factors such as toxicity.


1. Identification

A culture-specific syndrome is characterized by:

  • the condition is usually recognized and treated by the folk medicine of the culture.
  • widespread familiarity in the culture;
  • categorization as a disease in the culture i.e., not a voluntary behaviour or false claim;
  • no objectively demonstrable biochemical or tissue abnormalities signs;
  • complete lack of familiarity or misunderstanding of the condition to people in other cultures;

Some culture-specific syndromes involve somatic symptoms pain or disturbed function of a body part, while others are purely behavioral. Some culture-bound syndromes appear with similar features in several cultures, but with locally specific traits, such as penis panics.

A culture-specific syndrome is not the same as a geographically localized disease with specific, identifiable, causal tissue abnormalities, such as kuru or sleeping sickness, or genetic conditions limited to certain populations. It is possible that a condition originally assumed to be a culture-bound behavioral syndrome is found to have a biological cause; from a medical perspective it would then be redefined into another nosological category.


2. Medical perspectives

The American Psychiatric Association states the following:

The term culture-bound syndrome denotes recurrent, locality-specific patterns of aberrant behavior and troubling experience that may or may not be linked to a particular DSM-IV diagnostic category. Many of these patterns are indigenously considered to be "illnesses," or at least afflictions, and most have local names. Although presentations conforming to the major DSM-IV categories can be found throughout the world, the particular symptoms, course, and social response are very often influenced by local cultural factors. In contrast, culture-bound syndromes are generally limited to specific societies or culture areas and are localized, folk, diagnostic categories that frame coherent meanings for certain repetitive, patterned, and troubling sets of experiences and observations.

The term culture-bound syndrome is controversial since it reflects the different opinions of anthropologists and psychiatrists. Anthropologists have a tendency to emphasize the relativistic and culture-specific dimensions of the syndromes, while physicians tend to emphasize the universal and neuropsychological dimensions. Guarnaccia & Rogler 1999 have argued in favor of investigating culture-bound syndromes on their own terms, and believe that the syndromes have enough cultural integrity to be treated as independent objects of research.

Some studies suggest that culture-bound syndromes represent an acceptable way within a specific culture and cultural context among certain vulnerable individuals i.e. an ataque de nervios at a funeral in Puerto Rico to express distress in the wake of a traumatic experience. A similar manifestation of distress when displaced into a North American medical culture may lead to a very different, even adverse outcome for a given individual and his or her family.


3. DSM-5 list

The fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies the below syndromes as cultural concepts of distress, a closely related concept:


4. ICD-10 list

The 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems ICD classifies the below syndromes as culture-specific disorders:


5. Other examples

Though "the ethnocentric bias of Euro-American psychiatrists has led to the idea that culture-bound syndromes are confined to non-Western cultures," a prominent example of a Western culture-bound syndrome is anorexia nervosa.

Within the contiguous United States, the consumption of kaolin, a type of clay, has been proposed as a culture-bound syndrome observed in African Americans in the rural south, particularly in areas in which the mining of kaolin is common. In South Africa, among the Xhosa people, the syndrome of amafufunyana is commonly used to describe those believed to be possessed by demons or other malevolent spirits. Traditional healers in the culture usually perform exorcisms in order to drive off these spirits. Upon investigating the phenomenon, researchers found that many of the people claimed to be affected by the syndrome exhibited the traits and characteristics of schizophrenia.

Some researchers have suggested that both premenstrual syndrome PMS and the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder PMDD, which have currently unknown physical mechanisms, are Western culture-bound syndromes. However, this is controversial.

Vegetative-vascular dystonia can be considered an example of somatic condition formally recognised by local medical community in former Soviet Union countries, but not in Western classification systems. Its umbrella term nature as neurological condition also results in diagnosing neurotic patients as neurological ones, in effect substituting possible psychiatric stigma with culture-bound syndrome disguised as a neurological condition.

Refugee children in Sweden have been known to fall into coma-like states on learning their families will be deported. The condition, known in Swedish as uppgivenhetssyndrom, or resignation syndrome, is believed to only exist among the refugee population in the Scandinavian country, where it has been prevalent since the early part of the 21st century. In a 130-page report on the condition commissioned by the government and published in 2006, a team of psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists hypothesized that it was a culture-bound syndrome.

A startle disorder similar to latah, called imu sometimes spelled imu, is found among Ainu people, both Sakhalin Ainu and Hokkaido Ainu.

A condition similar to piblokto, called menerik sometimes meryachenie, is found among Yakuts, Yukaghirs, and Evenks living in Siberia.

  • Bouffee delirante is a culture - bound syndrome in West Africa and Haiti of a sudden outburst of aggression, confusion and psychomotor excitement, possibly
  • language, from the English, means crazy sickness is a contagious, culture - bound syndrome that occurs predominantly among the Miskito People of eastern Central
  • culture - bound to North America and Western Europe, and yet the culture - bound syndrome label is only applied to exotic conditions outside Euro - American
  • Glossary of culture bound syndromes Devereux 95, 103 Alarcon, Renato Foulks, Edward Vakkur, Mark 1998 Personality Disorders and Culture Clinical
  • brain chemistry, and PMS is a product of a hypochondriatic culture i.e. a culture - bound syndrome Most studies on PMS and PMDD rely solely on self - reporting
  • Shenkui is a culture bound syndrome native to China, as well as exists globally, in which the individual suffers withdrawal like symptoms including painful
  • Falling out or Falling Out may refer to: Falling - out, a culture - bound syndrome A deterioration in the quality of a friendship, usually due to a specific
  • syndrome SADS is a sudden unexpected death of adolescents and adults, mainly during sleep. One relatively common type is known as Brugada syndrome
  • Dorian Gray syndrome DGS denotes a cultural and societal phenomenon characterized by a man s extreme pride in his personal appearance and the fitness
  • Couvade syndrome also called sympathetic pregnancy, is a proposed condition in which a partner experiences some of the same symptoms and behavior as an

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