When laughter isn’t funny

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?
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Jennifer LaRue Huget, Blogger

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 www.jenniferlaruehuget.com.