Pseudobulbar Affect: Six Signs to Watch Out For

Strokes, traumatic brain injuries, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis all share something in common: they all have profound effects on the brain and its function. They can also lead to pseudobulbar affect (PBA), a condition which triggers uncontrolled, sudden, and highly exaggerated outbursts of emotional expression. If you are a caregiver for someone who is living with one of these conditions, sudden laughter or crying without a clear reason could be a sign of pseudobulbar affect. Continue reading to learn about six signs that could be indicators of this rare condition.

1. Their emotional response to a situation is disproportionate or exaggerated

In situations that can trigger humor or sadness, crying or laughter are natural responses. But if it goes on for a lot longer than the situation warrants, it could be a sign that something’s up. An example would be a funny scene in a movie that gets the crowd going…but your patient is still laughing for several minutes later.

2. Emotional responses aren’t in sync with their moods.

Another possible sign of pseudobulbar affect is if the patient is laughing or crying when they aren’t actually upset or amused.

3. Emotional responses happen at awkward times and can’t be predicted.

If your patient is crying or laughing at times that it really doesn’t feel appropriate, this could be another sign of the condition. Emotional responses can come very rapidly and unexpectedly.

4. They have a hard time getting back to normal.

Sometimes, people with pseudobulbar affect really have a tough time getting themselves to stop crying or laughing.

5. Tears turn to laughter or vice versa.

If the patient’s tears suddenly turn into laughing or the other way around, it’s a strong sign of pseudobulbar affect. This is a clear indicator that the region of the brain responsible for emotional response and regulation isn’t functioning normally.

6. The person’s usual moods return after crying or laughing episodes subside.

Generally, episodes of laughing or crying from pseudobulbar affect subside after several minutes. Then, the patient suddenly and abruptly seems to be themselves again.

If you think you’re loved one might have this condition, it’s important to discuss these signs with their physician. While the symptoms aren’t necessarily endangering the patient, they can disrupt their ability to socialize and feel comfortable in public. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms can be reduced in intensity and frequency.


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