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Emotional lability

In medicine and psychology, emotional lability is a sign or symptom typified by exaggerated changes in mood or affect in quick succession.[1][2] Sometimes the emotions expressed outwardly are very different from how the person feels on the inside. These strong emotions can be a disproportionate response to something that happened, but other times there might be no trigger at all. The person experiencing emotional lability usually feels like they do not have control over the emotions. For example, someone might cry uncontrollably in response to any strong emotion even if they do not feel sad or unhappy.[1]

Emotional lability is seen or reported in various conditions including borderline personality disorder,[3] histrionic personality disorder,[4] hypomanic or manic episodes of bipolar disorder,[5] and neurological disorders or brain injury (where it is termed pseudobulbar affect), such as after a stroke.[6] Emotional lability is also a feature of intoxication from certain substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.[7] It can also be an associated feature of ADHD.[8][9]

Children who display a high degree of emotional lability generally have low frustration tolerance and frequent crying spells or tantrums.[2] During preschool, ADHD with emotional lability is associated with increased impairment and may be a sign of internalizing problems or multiple comorbid disorders.[9] Children who are neglected are more likely to experience emotional dysregulation, including emotional lability.[10]

Potential triggers of emotional lability may be: excessive tiredness, stress or anxiety, over-stimulated senses (too much noise, being in large crowds, etc.), being around others exhibiting strong emotions, very sad or funny situations (such as jokes, movies, certain stories or books), death of a loved one, or other situations that elicit stress or strong emotions.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Service (2011). "Understanding Emotional Lability" (PDF). The State of Queensland (Queensland Health). Retrieved January 6, 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Posner, Jonathan; Kass, Erica; Hulvershorn, Leslie (19 August 2014). "Using Stimulants to Treat ADHD-Related Emotional Lability". Current Psychiatry Reports. 16 (10). doi:10.1007/s11920-014-0478-4. 
  3. ^ Paris, Joel (1993). Borderline Personality Disorder: Etiology and Treatment. American Psychiatric Pub. p. 106. ISBN 9780880484084. 
  4. ^ Kernberg, Otto F. (1995). Aggression in Personality Disorders and Perversions. Yale University Press. p. 58. ISBN 9780300065084. 
  5. ^ Fortinash, Katherine M.; Holoday Worret, Patricia A. (2014). Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 230. ISBN 9780323293273. 
  6. ^ Kim, J.S. (2016). "Post-stroke Mood and Emotional Disturbances: Pharmacological Therapy Based on Mechanisms". Journal of Stroke. 18 (3): 244–55. doi:10.5853/jos.2016.01144. 
  7. ^ Stark, Margaret M.; Payne-James, J. Jason (2009). Symptoms and Signs of Substance Misuse. Cambridge University Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780521137270. 
  8. ^ Cooper, Ruth E; Tye, Charlotte; Kuntsi, Jonna; Vassos, Evangelos; Asherson, Philip (January 2016). "The effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on emotional dysregulation, oppositional behaviour and conduct problems in ADHD: A systematic review and meta-analysis". Journal of Affective Disorders. 190: 474–482. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.09.053. 
  9. ^ a b Maire, Jenna; Galéra, Cédric; Meyer, Eric; Salla, Julie; Michel, Grégory (June 2016). "Is emotional lability a marker for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and aggression symptoms in preschoolers?". Child and Adolescent Mental Health. doi:10.1111/camh.12168. 
  10. ^ Maguire, S. A.; Williams, B.; Naughton, A. M.; Cowley, L. E.; Tempest, V.; Mann, M. K.; Teague, M.; Kemp, A. M. (September 2015). "A systematic review of the emotional, behavioural and cognitive features exhibited by school-aged children experiencing neglect or emotional abuse". Child: Care, Health and Development. 41 (5): 641–653. doi:10.1111/cch.12227.