Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a condition that’s characterized by episodes of sudden uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing or crying. Pseudobulbar affect typically occurs in people with certain neurological conditions or injuries, which might affect the way the brain controls emotion.1
Scientists believe PBA may result from damage to the prefrontal cortex — the area of the brain that helps control emotions. Those with an underlying neurological condition may have PBA. An injury or disease that affects the brain can lead to PBA. About half the people who’ve had a stroke get PBA. Other brain conditions commonly linked to PBA include brain tumors, dementia, Multiple Sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease.2
The primary symptoms of PBA include sudden and uncontrollable emotional outbursts. These can include laughing or crying and can last for several seconds or a few minutes. These outbursts are mismatched to the situation at hand and do not reflect the individual’s actual feelings. For example, a person may cry in response to a joke or laugh during a funeral.
PBA symptoms mimic other problems like depression, bipolar, or other mood disorders. But with PBA, emotional outbursts come suddenly, and without any connection to the situation the person is in.
PBA is distressing to those who have it and to those around them. However, it is a distinct and treatable condition if diagnosed. Diagnosis can educate family, friends and caregivers about what’s behind the often unusual, upsetting and unpredictable outbursts, and lead to treatment.
PBA can be diagnosed by internists, neuropsychologists, neurologists and psychiatrists.