Wednesday, June 5, 2013

When laughter isn’t funny

Jennifer LaRue Huget

Laughter and tears typically represent opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. But for some people – including about 10 percent of those with multiple sclerosis – episodes of involuntary laughter and/or crying are symptoms of a single emotional disorder known as pseudobulbar affect (PBA).

PBA is one of many mental disorders that can plague people with MS; it’s associated with other neurologic conditions such as stroke and dementia, too. It’s a tricky disorder to pin down. After all, everyone laughs and cries, right? But people with PBA find themselves laughing at things they don’t find funny and crying when they’re not at all sad. Such episodes can be very brief or last for a few minutes; they can occur only occasionally or many times per day. It’s believed that PBA results from damage to areas in the brain related to emotion.
However mild or severe a case of PBA may be, the condition can be terribly embarrassing and confusing for everyone involved. Raising awareness and spreading information about PBA and other emotional changes linked to MS could help spare that discomfort for thousands of people.

The National MS Society provides information and support for people whose MS has caused or been accompanied by mental disorders or emotional changes such as PBA. The Society joined other organizations across the nation in highlighting such disorders in May, which President Obama had designated as National Mental Health Awareness Month. You can read more about emotional changes that are symptoms of MS here, and about the Society’s involvement in National Mental Health Awareness Month here.

I intend to ask my neurologist about PBA at my next checkup, because now that I know about it, it seems to me I might actually suffer from the disorder myself. I tend to over-laugh, and I often cry when tears aren’t in order. To be sure, if I do indeed have PBA, mine doesn’t appear to be a severe case. But, still, I’d like to know, particularly as there are now several medications available to help control the condition. I’ll let you know what I learn.

Have you noticed emotional changes related to your MS? Have you consulted a physician about them?

Jennifer LaRue Huget was diagnosed with MS in 2001. A freelance writer and children's book author, she lives in Connecticut with her husband, two teenage kids, and two brown dogs. Her website is


  1. thank you for sharing some things make sense

  2. I have had 2 episodes of uncontrollable crying since being diagnosed with MS in January 2013. My lesions are in the brain stem. One episode was in front of a doctor. I was not sad, but rather it started when I was asked a question & It felt like I was "locked in" my own brain looking out at people. Everyone around me was freaking out asking me what was wrong, but I couldn't break the cry or speak. Then, it just stopped. I said "Whoa, I'm okay, I'm okay." The doctor said, "Wow, that was weird." I asked about it during my cognition testing & the doctor said, "Well, it's okay to be sad and cry." He didn't get it - I was not in control nor was I sad. I let it go there, but I am thinking maybe it is what you are describing. I would define it more as a physical problem though... not emotional. I also would submit that a person wouldn't "think" they had this. If it is what happened to me, you would absolutely know it happened.

  3. Keep positive influence around you.

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  5. Hello Project and Jennifer LaRue Huget
    oh my god I understand how you feel Perfectly. I too cry for no reason and laugh at a lot of things that make people look at me funny. I have family that don't like having me around because they think I am nuts, some think I am faking my illness. I have talked to my therapist, my neurologist and family doctor. This is an illness I would wish on my enemy.
    I now have family that are telling me I have other things other then MS. Now I am dealing with PBS what fun this is (NOT)..
    Thank you so much Jennifer LaRue Huget and Project for your post I am so glad to know I am not going nuts and their are others going through the same things or close to the same seeing every one is never the same.

    Sue=Ann Harris

  6. I write an MS blog also and have covered this subject a little. You might be interested in reading this post at:;postID=8471930707905140664;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=58;src=postname.
    As a sufferer of PBS, I know that it is embarrassing and hard to control. Hopefully all of us who suffer with this will get some relief. At least we finally know that we are not crazy! :)
    Janie Toney