Bipolar Disorder Vs. Emotional Lability: Differences, Causes, and symptoms

Bipolar Disorder Vs. Emotional Lability

Bipolar Disorder and Emotional Lability are two different mental health conditions, though they may share some common features related to mood changes. Bipolar Disorder is a psychiatric disorder characterized by significant and long-lasting mood swings that cycle between manic or hypomanic episodes (elevated mood, increased energy) and depressive episodes (low mood, decreased energy).

Emotional Lability is a symptom or feature rather than a standalone disorder. It involves intense and rapid shifts in mood, often in response to external stimuli or triggers. The main difference between bipolar disorder and emotional lability is that bipolar disorder involves prolonged, cycling mood swings between manic and depressive states, while emotional lability refers to rapid and intense mood shifts that are often short-lived and can occur in response to external triggers.

In this article, we discuss in detail the meaning, causes, differences, and symptoms of bipolar disorder and emotional lability.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar is a kind of mental disorder that causes unusual changes in mood, energy, and the person’s ability to function. Individuals with bipolar disorder also encounter fluctuations in their energy levels, cognitive processes, actions, and sleep patterns. Managing daily activities, attending work or school, and sustaining relationships can be challenging during bipolar mood episodes.

Bipolar disorder entails experiencing heightened emotional states that generally manifest over specific periods lasting from days to weeks, referred to as mood episodes. These mood episodes are classified as manic/hypomanic (characterized by abnormally elevated or irritable moods) or depressive (marked by feelings of sadness).

What causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder affects a significant number of adults in the United States. While many individuals are diagnosed with bipolar disorder during their teens or early twenties, it can start at any age. The good news is that numerous individuals with the condition found effective ways to manage their symptoms over time.

The main cause of bipolar disorder remains unknown, but various factors may contribute to its development, including:

  • Genetics impact: Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, with the disorder. Researchers are actively exploring genes that may play a role in predisposing individuals to bipolar disorder.
  • Biological impact: Individuals with bipolar disorder have physical changes in their brains. The implications of these changes are still not fully understood but may eventually provide insights into the condition’s origins.

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

When someone experiences a manic episode, they undergo periods of intense excitement, heightened productivity, and a sense of invincibility. On the other hand, during a depressive episode, they grapple with overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, and exhaustion. This may lead them to withdraw from social interactions and their usual activities. This may cause false beliefs or sensory experiences that are not perceivable by others.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary from person to person, and the signs and symptoms include:

During a “manic” episode, an individual may exhibit:

  • Profound feelings of euphoria, excitement, or extreme happiness
  • Unusually heightened restlessness or agitation
  • Excessive energy levels
  • Insomnia or reduced need for sleep
  • Rapid or excessively talkative speech
  • Racing or disorganized thoughts
  • Difficulty maintaining focus due to distractibility
  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • Impulsive, out-of-character behaviors, such as engaging in risky activities or reckless spending
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Hypomania, which is a milder form of mania

During a “depressive” episode, an individual may experience:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, worry, worthlessness, anxiety, guilt, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • A marked lack of interest in or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • Profound fatigue and low energy levels
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty with memory
  • Indecisiveness and problems concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances, such as sleeping excessively or struggling to sleep at all
  • Changes in appetite, either overeating or reduced eating
  • Thoughts related to death or suicide.

What is Emotional Lability?

What is Emotional Lability?

Emotional lability is a mental condition that causes changes in the emotional state. It can cause uncontrollable laughter or crying at unexpected times. If you find yourself laughing or crying uncontrollably at inappropriateĀ times, you may have emotional lability. It mostly affects people with preexisting neurological conditions or injuries.

Emotional lability episodes are usually short-lived and can occur in response to specific situations or events. The medical name for emotional lability is involuntary emotional expression disorder. Other names for emotional liability may include, pathological laughing and crying, pseudobulbar affect, affective lability, emotionalism, and emotional incontinence.

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Lability

Emotional lability’s main symptoms involve episodes where you can’t control your crying or laughing. These episodes are often much stronger than what the situation calls for, and they can happen even when you don’t feel that way at all. For example, you might burst into laughter when you’re feeling sad.

Other signs of emotional lability include:

  • Short episodes of intense emotion, usually lasting just a few minutes
  • Emotions that switch quickly, like going from laughing to crying
  • Laughing or crying when others don’t see a reason to
  • Having much stronger emotions than what’s happening around you
  • Acting very differently from your usual self during these outbursts

What causes Emotional Lability?

According to American Heart Association, several conditions can harm the brain and lead to emotional lability. Here are some examples:

  • Stroke: A stroke can damage the brain and affect its chemical balance, leading to emotional lability.
  • Neurological Conditions: Various neurological conditions can cause emotional lability, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple system atrophy-cerebellar type, and corticobasal degeneration.
  • Brain Injuries: Injuries to the brain, such as contusions, blunt force trauma to the head, oxygen deprivation, brain swelling, brain infections, penetrating head injuries, skull fractures, and hematomas, can also trigger emotional lability.


In conclusion, bipolar disorder and emotional lability are different conditions that affect an individual’s emotional and mental well-being differently. Bipolar disorder involves changes in mood episodes, including manic or hypomanic episodes characterized by intense excitement and depressive episodes marked by extreme sadness. These mood changes can severely impact daily life and may lead to psychotic symptoms in severe cases. Genetic and biological factors are believed to contribute to bipolar disorder.

On the other hand, emotional lability primarily manifests as uncontrollable outbursts of crying or laughing that may not align with the individual’s current emotional state. These outbursts are often brief, and individuals may return to a stable emotional state between episodes. Emotional lability can result from brain injuries, neurological conditions, or other brain-affecting factors.


No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *