Is Laughter Disorder Just Embarrassing or Is There Something More to It?

A Guide To Laughter Disorder
27 Jun 2024
10 mins
Table Of Content
Is Laughter Disorder Just Embarrassing or Is There Something More to It?

    Laughed at an inappropriate time, or do you just not know why tears rolled down when you saw something random? Embarrassing, wasn’t it? Hey, but did you know this wasn’t just one of your “phases” or hormones? It’s a condition you might want a serious look at!

    Pseudobulbar affect (PBA), also known as emotional incontinence, is a condition involving uncontrollable episodes of laughing or crying that are disproportionate or unrelated to the person's emotional state. 

    In the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10), it is classified under code F48.8, which falls within the category of "Other Specified Neurotic Disorders." This implies that it falls under one of those disorders which are characterised by abnormalities in emotional expression rather than as a primary mood disorder or neurological disease. 

    Curious to know more? Read on!


    What triggers the pseudobulbar affect?


    Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) can be triggered by various stimuli or situations that activate the abnormal reflexive pathways in the brain responsible for emotional expression. Common triggers include:

    • Intense or emotionally charged scenes in movies, TV shows, or real-life events can trigger episodes of uncontrollable laughing or crying.
      High-stress situations, such as conflicts, deadlines, or overwhelming responsibilities, may exacerbate symptoms of PBA.
      Physical or emotional exhaustion can lower the threshold for PBA episodes, making individuals more susceptible to sudden bouts of laughter or crying.
    • Some medications or changes in medication regimens can potentially trigger or worsen symptoms of PBA in susceptible individuals.
    • Emotional conversations, social interactions, or situations where there is pressure to conform to expected emotional responses can provoke episodes of PBA.


    What is the most common cause of the laughter disorder?


    It is primarily associated with neurological conditions that affect the brain's pathways controlling emotional expression. Common underlying causes include:

    1. Neurological Disorders: Conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease can lead to pseudobulbar effects.


    2. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Head injuries that damage the brain's structures involved in emotional regulation can trigger PBA.


    3. Stroke: Damage to certain areas of the brain following a stroke can disrupt emotional control mechanisms.


    4. Other Brain Disorders: Brain tumours, infections, and degenerative brain diseases may also contribute to the development of PBA.


    How to identify PBA?


    Diagnosing pseudobulbar affect involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional. Key steps in the diagnostic process include:

    1. Clinical Assessment: A detailed history of symptoms and medical history review.


    2. Neurological Examination: Assessment of neurological function to identify any underlying conditions.


    What is the best treatment for pseudobulbar affect?


    Managing pseudobulbar affect focuses on alleviating symptoms and improving quality of life. Treatment options include:

    1. Medications: Certain medications, such as dextromethorphan/quinidine, are FDA-approved for PBA and can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes.


    2. Therapy: Counseling and psychotherapy may be beneficial, helping individuals cope with the emotional impact of PBA.


    3. Speech Therapy: Techniques aimed at improving speech and communication can be valuable for those experiencing speech-related symptoms.


    4. Supportive Care: Educating patients and caregivers about PBA and providing support services can enhance overall management.


    What is the difference between pseudobulbar palsy and pseudobulbar a



    Here are some points of difference that you need to note: 

    1. Definition

    Pseudobulbar palsy is a neurological condition characterised by impairment of muscles controlled by the brain stem, leading to difficulty in voluntary muscle movements.

    Whereas pseudobulbar affect is a neurological disorder marked by involuntary and uncontrollable episodes of laughing or crying, often disproportionate to the situation.

    2. Primary Impact


    Palsy primarily affects motor functions, resulting in compromised muscle control. On the other hand, the pseudobulbar affect impacts emotional control, leading to sudden, inappropriate emotional expressions.

    3. Symptoms


    Pseudobulbar palsy symptoms include slurred speech, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and limited facial expressions. For example, a person might struggle to articulate words clearly or have trouble eating and drinking.

    Pseudobulbar affect includes uncontrollable laughing or crying spells that occur without an emotional trigger or are exaggerated in response to minor stimuli. For instance, someone might start laughing uncontrollably during a serious conversation or crying over a trivial event.

    4. Causes

    Palsy typically results from damage to upper motor neurons due to conditions such as stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or multiple sclerosis (MS). Pseudobulbar affect is often associated with neurological disorders like ALS, MS, traumatic brain injury, or stroke.

    5. Treatment

    Pseudobulbar palsy is managed through speech therapy, medications to alleviate symptoms, and treatment of the underlying cause. For example, speech therapists may work on improving articulation and swallowing techniques.

    Pseudobulbar affect is treated with medications like antidepressants or specific drugs such as Nuedexta, which can help regulate emotional responses.

    6. Focus

    The primary focus of palsy is on restoring and managing motor function, as well as improving speech, swallowing, and facial movement. The focus in terms of pseudobulbar affect is on controlling emotional outbursts and stabilising mood.\


    What part of the brain is damaged due to pseudobulbar affect?


    Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is associated with damage to the brain regions involved in regulating emotional expression, particularly the frontal lobes and their connections with deeper brain structures such as the brainstem. 

    Specifically, disruptions in the pathways that control the modulation of emotional responses and reflexive behaviours can lead to the characteristic symptoms of PBA, including uncontrollable episodes of laughter or crying that are disproportionate to the individual's actual emotions. 

    These brain regions play a critical role in integrating and regulating emotional responses. Damage to these areas can impair the brain's ability to appropriately modulate emotional expression, resulting in the symptoms observed in PBA.


    What is pseudobulbar palsy in children?


    Though less common, pseudobulbar effect can occur in children, particularly those with certain neurological conditions or brain injuries. Here are some key things to consider:

    1. Neurological Conditions: PBA in children is often associated with underlying neurological disorders such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), cerebral palsy, or genetic conditions affecting the brain's development.

    2. Symptoms in Children: Similar to adults, children with PBA may experience episodes of uncontrollable laughing or crying that are incongruent with their actual emotions or the situation.

    3. Impact on Development: PBA can significantly impact a child's social interactions, emotional development, and quality of life. Episodes of inappropriate emotional expression may lead to misunderstandings or social stigma.

    4. Diagnosis Challenges: Diagnosing PBA in children can be challenging due to the variability in emotional expression during normal development. Healthcare professionals must carefully assess symptoms and their frequency to differentiate PBA from other behavioural or emotional disorders.

    5. Tailored Treatment Approaches: Managing PBA in children requires personalised strategies that consider their developmental stage, cognitive abilities, and emotional needs. Treatment may involve a combination of medication, behavioural therapy, and support services tailored to address the specific challenges faced by children with PBA.

    6. Supportive Care: In addition to medical intervention, providing support to the child and their family is crucial. Educating caregivers, teachers, and peers about PBA can promote understanding and empathy, fostering a supportive environment for the child's emotional well-being.


    Does PBA ever go away?


    Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) can vary in duration and intensity depending on the underlying cause and individual circumstances. In some cases, PBA may improve or resolve over time, especially with appropriate treatment addressing the underlying neurological condition or injury. However, for many individuals, PBA may persist as a chronic condition, necessitating ongoing management to mitigate symptoms and improve quality of life. Early diagnosis and tailored treatment can significantly impact the prognosis and long-term outlook.


    Fun Fact


    The character of the Joker, as portrayed in various media, including films, comics, and television shows, is often depicted with exaggerated and unpredictable emotional expressions, including bouts of uncontrollable laughter.

    In this case, his laughter and emotional instability are usually attributed to his fictional backstory and portrayal as a chaotic and mentally disturbed character rather than a clinical diagnosis of PBA.

    Written by
    Dr. Tejashwin AdigaMBBS
    AboutDr. Tejashwin Adiga is a skilled and compassionate physician. He is dedicated to providing high-quality care and prioritizes patient education and preventive medicine. Known for his personalized approach, Dr. Adiga ensures each patient receives tailored treatment. His motto is to stay updated with medical advancements to offer the best care possible, making him a trusted and respected healthcare provider.
    Tags :laughter disorderpseudobulbar palsydifference between pseudobulbar palsy and pseudobulbar effectpseudobulbar affect