Emotional lability involves rapid mood changes when strong emotions occur. This may cause uncontrollable laughing and crying or increased temper or irritability without a clear reason.

Emotional lability may occur due to a stroke, brain injury, or another condition that affects brain function. If a person develops emotional lability, they may express their emotions more intensely or, in some cases, inappropriately to the situation.

Several treatments and coping methods are available for people with emotional lability to help them manage their condition and improve their quality of life. These measures can include practicing mindfulness, breathing exercises, or counseling.

This article will review emotional lability, including its causes, treatment options, and how people can cope with triggering situations.

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Emotional lability is a condition that can cause rapid shifts in a person’s emotional state. Doctors may also refer to it as:

  • involuntary emotional expression disorder
  • pseudobulbar affect
  • labile affect
  • pathological laughing and crying

Typically, the symptoms relating to emotional lability are persistent and debilitating. They also tend to affect a person’s quality of life.

Symptoms may include:

  • uncontrollable outbursts of laughing or crying
  • heightened irritability or temper
  • an atypical emotive reaction to certain situations


Emotional lability may present in several ways, such as intense laughing or crying that may occur either at inappropriate times or that may be excessive for the present situation.

For example, when something positive happens, a person with emotional lability may cry or feel angry. Contrastingly, they may laugh when they receive sad news, such as the death of a family member.

Other times, someone with emotional lability may respond with the correct emotional response, but this may have an exaggerated level, such as laughing for minutes after hearing a pun.

Several health conditions that cause damage to the central nervous system can trigger emotional lability. Typically, it occurs due to a brain injury or a neurological condition.

Some neurological conditions that may cause emotional lability include:

Some ways the brain can sustain injury include:

Brain injuries — especially those affecting the emotional processing part of the brain — can affect how a person expresses their emotions and the intensity of reactions to certain situations.

The only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medication for emotional lability is dextromethorphan (Robitussin, Delsym). It consists of a combination of dextromethorphan hydrobromide and quinidine sulfate.

However, doctors may recommend several off-label medications. Off-label use refers to using medications for a purpose that regulatory bodies, such as the FDA, have not approved. Still, medical professionals believe the medication can have a positive effect.

In the context of off-label use, a doctor may prescribe low dose antidepressant drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or tricyclic antidepressants.

Several strategies may help people cope with emotional lability. These can include:

Avoiding triggers

Identifying what triggers emotional lability symptoms and avoiding them, if possible, can help reduce the risk of symptoms.

Some triggers may include:

  • anxiety
  • excessive tiredness
  • stress
  • pressure-filled situations, including public speaking or talking on the phone
  • funny or sad situations

Cognitive strategies

Sometimes, it is difficult to avoid triggers, but a person can adopt certain strategies to help them deal with challenging situations or events.

Practicing mindfulness is one strategy. Some ways to do so include:

Taking a break

Taking a short break from the triggering situation can help people relax and restore their emotional balance. Sometimes, a few minutes away may be enough.

Changing the topic

Other techniques that may help include changing the topic of conversation or switching to another activity. This may help people shift their attention to something different or distract them from the triggering issue.

Counseling may be a suitable option for emotional lability. This may help people who have had a sudden injury or are coping with the symptoms of MS or stroke complications. Working with a professional, a person can work on coping strategies to help manage emotions and triggers.

Individuals could also consider talking with people around them about their condition.

It can be confusing for family or friends to understand how someone with emotional lability reacts the way they do. Also, these groups could provide better support if they know about the person’s condition.

Emotional lability can occur due to a neurological illness, such as MS, or after sustaining a brain injury. It can disrupt how the brain processes emotions, causing people to laugh or cry at inappropriate times or for atypical and prolonged periods.

Several coping strategies, including mindfulness or breathing exercises, may help someone manage emotional lability. Counseling is an option for those who may find it beneficial to talk through their emotions. Also, making family and friends aware of emotional lability can help these groups support a person better.