What causes emotional symptoms?

Emotional symptoms can be caused by several psychiatric illnesses, personality disorders, behavioral disorders, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Emotional symptoms can also be related to medication side effects or chronic medical conditions.

Situational or environmental factors also play a role in emotional symptoms. These factors include traumas or stressors, such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or a divorce. As life circumstances improve, the emotional symptoms may or may not resolve.

Medications and substances that have direct effects on the nervous system can cause emotional symptoms. Medical conditions, such as dementia, can contribute to emotional symptoms by damaging brain tissue. The link between emotional symptoms and chronic medical conditions (for example, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and chronic pain disorders) is less clear, and probably related to a number of factors.

Psychiatric causes of emotional symptoms

Emotional symptoms may be caused by psychiatric conditions including:

  • Antisocial personality disorder (disordered perceptions and interactions with others)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (disorder characterized by unstable relationships)
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (disorder characterized by extreme anger)
  • Major depression
  • Postpartum depression
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder

Other causes of emotional symptoms

Emotional symptoms can have other causes including:

  • Brain tumors
  • Chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS
  • Chronic pain
  • Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease
  • Head injury
  • Side effects of medications, such as antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and opioid pain relievers
  • Substance abuse

Serious or life-threatening causes of emotional symptoms

In some cases, emotional symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Acute delirium (sudden onset of mental status changes due to illness or toxicity)
  • Alcohol poisoning or drug overdose
  • Mania (elevated mood and energy levels that can occur in bipolar disorder)
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury

Questions for diagnosing the cause of emotional symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your emotional symptoms including:

  • When did you first notice your emotional symptoms?
  • How would you describe your symptoms?
  • Does anything make them better or worse?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have any psychiatric or medical problems?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Do you drink any alcohol?
  • Are you using any illicit drugs?

What are the potential complications of emotional symptoms?

Because emotional symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Difficulties at work, in school, in social environments, and with relationships
  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse
  • Drug overdose or alcohol poisoning
  • Impaired social interactions
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Legal or financial troubles
  • Self-harm
  • Social isolation
  • Suicide or violence


  1. Major depression. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001941/.
  2. Do I really need help?  The Ohio State University Medical Center. http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/mental_health/mental_health_about/mood/....
  3. Kravitz RL, Ford DE. Introduction: chronic medical conditions and depression--the view from primary care. Am J Med 2008; 121:S1.

What are the signs of emotional problems?

Emotional symptoms include anger, anxiety, disgust, excitement, fear, happiness, joy and sadness, to name a few. Emotional symptoms can be positive or negative and can come from within you or be a reaction to your environment. Emotional changes can be normal, temporary responses to events; however, disproportionate, extre... Read more about emotional symptomsintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with emotional symptoms?

Emotional symptoms may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that frequently affect the emotions may also involve other body systems.

Psychological and cognitive symptoms that may occur along with emotional symptoms

Emotional symptoms may accompany other psychological or cognitive symptoms including: Read more about emotional symptomssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mental Health and Behavior