What is PBA or

Pseudobulbar Affect?

PBA is a condition that causes uncontrollable crying and/or laughing that happens suddenly and frequently. It only happens in people with a brain injury or certain neurologic conditions.

A person having a PBA crying spell may cry when they don’t feel sad or when they only feel a little bit sad. Someone having a PBA laughing spell may laugh when they don’t feel amused or when they only feel a little bit amused.

Images of people affected by Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)
Lori, an advocate for her husband with Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)

PBA is more common than you think

While there are almost 2 million people in the US with neurologic conditions or traumatic brain injury who have been diagnosed with PBA, over 7 million people in the US with these underlying conditions have symptoms that may suggest PBA*:

Estimated percent of people with common neurologic conditions who have PBA symptoms**

TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)
Alzheimer's Disease/Dementia
MS (Multiple Sclerosis)
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
Parkinson's Disease

*When considering patients with any of 6 common neurologic conditions associated with PBA, it is estimated that 37%, or an estimated 7.1 million Americans, have symptoms suggestive of PBA as defined by a CNS-LS (Center for Neurologic Study-Lability Scale) score ≥13 and 9.4% of patients, or an estimated 1.8 million Americans, with CNS-LS scores ≥21. The presence of PBA symptoms was defined as a CNS-LS score ≥13 and a more restrictive definition was also evaluated using CNS-LS ≥21. The CNS-LS was validated as a PBA screening tool in ALS and MS populations. A CNS-LS score ≥13 merits further diagnostic assessment.

**Work SS, Colamonico JA, Bradley WG, Kaye RE. Pseudobulbar affect: an under-recognized and under-treated neurological disorder. Adv Ther. 2011;28:586-601.

PBA is a condition of emotional expression — crying and/or laughing that's exaggerated or doesn't match how you feel. It's different from depression.


PBA is neurologic which means it’s caused by damage to the nervous system.


Conditions like depression are psychological which means they’re related to a person’s emotional or mental state.

It's possible to have PBA and depression at the same time, but the two are separate conditions that should be diagnosed and managed separately.
There are ways to manage PBA.

What makes PBA different from depression*

Underlying Condition
You also have a neurologic condition or brain injury
You may or may not have a neurologic condition or brain injury
You have sudden, frequent crying and/or laughing
You may or may not have crying†
Your crying and/or laughing spells are uncontrollable
You may have control over crying
Your crying and/or laughing is exaggerated or doesn’t match how you feel
Your crying matches how you feel
Your crying and/or laughing episode lasts seconds to minutes
Crying is part of your depression that can last weeks or months

*Formal diagnosis of PBA or depression can only be made by a qualified healthcare professional (HCP). These are not all of the diagnostic features of depression or PBA. PBA occurs in the context of a neurologic condition/injury affecting the brain and is not explained by other causes such as medication use.

†Tearfulness/crying is not a diagnostic hallmark for depression diagnosis.

PBA episodes and everyday life*

The impact of a PBA episode goes beyond crying and laughing.

  • It can be frustrating, because you're not sad, despite how it looks. Or things aren't as funny as they may seem.
  • Because PBA symptoms always happen as a result of another neurologic condition or brain injury, they can feel like yet another difficulty to deal with.

PBA is a real condition that you can do something about. Ask your doctor how PBA can be managed.

*Colamonico J, Formella A, Bradley W. Pseudobulbar affect: burden of illness in the USA. Adv Ther. 2012;29:775-798.

People with PBA say an can cause:

Person sitting on couch

It’s a struggle not to have people think I’m crazy! I’ll just bust out laughing and crying. I don’t understand how you can be so happy… and then bawling.

Person looking pensive
Embarrassment from the Situation

You’ll be somewhere and stand out. You’re different and people look at you differently.

Couple sitting on couch
Personal Discouragement

He really gets down on himself about it…He doesn’t feel like he’s the same person.

Wondering if you or someone you love might have PBA?

Need help explaining your symptoms to your doctor? Answer these questions, then talk to your doctor about your options.

Remember: PBA is different from depression, but it's possible to have both at the same time. The two should be diagnosed and managed separately.

Marilyn, a caregiver to her husband with Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)

PBA may be described by many names

Other names are sometimes used to describe PBA. Many of these don't accurately describe the condition or its symptoms. You may hear others refer to PBA as:

  • Emotional lability
  • Emotional incontinence
  • Inappropriate or labile affect
  • Forced crying and laughing
  • Pathological crying and laughing
  • Involuntary Emotional Expression Disorder (IEED)

PBA Nurse Talk

This program gives those experiencing relevant symptoms the opportunity to speak with a registered nurse about PBA.

Learn more and find out if you're eligible