The Emotional Side Of MS: Understanding Pseudobublar Affect (PBA)

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If you find yourself crying or laughing uncontrollably, you are not alone. Although most people have never heard of pseudobulbar affect (PBA), it’s estimated that two million Americans are suffering from this neurologic condition. Ten percent of these are people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

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Often misdiagnosed as clinical depression, PBA is a neurologic disorder that’s characterized by uncontrollable episodes of crying or laughing without any evident reason(s). The outbursts may happen a couple times throughout the day and can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

While the exact cause is still being investigated by researchers, it’s believed that PBA is triggered by a traumatic injury or neurological disease, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, that affects the parts of our brain that control the way we process and express our emotions.

Symptoms for PBA may look like:

  • Crying and/or laughing easily
  • Experiencing sudden or unexpected bursts of crying and/or laughing
  • The uncontrollable episodes of crying and/or laughing do not match what you’re feeling on the inside. For instance, you’re in a great mood, but all of a sudden, you start crying uncontrollably
  • The person may laugh or cry at inappropriate times. For instance, someone with PBA may start crying in response to a joke or laughing uncontrollably during a funeral or in response to sad news

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People with PBA may isolate themselves and avoid public situations for fear of having an episode around others. Being diagnosed by a doctor is the first step toward creating a treatment plan. Because PBA is a neurologic condition that affects emotions, antidepressants are often prescribed. However, back in 2010, the FDA approved Neudexta, a drug that’s specifically designed for people with PBA.

If you’ve been diagnosed with PBA, there are other ways you can help control your symptoms, such as taking deep, slow breaths and distracting yourself whenever you feel an outburst coming on.

For more on PBA, click here.


Visit the Living with Multiple Sclerosis center for more articles.