November 21st, 2014
In the series of embarrassing medical conditions, Witzelsucht is definitely a “funny one”. Apparently, some people don’t tell terrible jokes because they want to, but instead suffer from a brain disorder that actually causes a poor sense of humor.
Witzelsucht, also called the “joking disease”, is a brain dysfunction that causes the sufferer to compulsively make inappropriate jokes or puns – all the time. The condition is generally a result of an injury to the right frontal lobe, which could be caused by brain trauma or a stroke, tumor, infection or a degenerative disease.
“Patients who have disease of the left frontal lobe often are sad, anxious and depressed,” explains Dr. Kenneth Heilman, a neurologist at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, Fla. “In contrast … patients with right-hemisphere disease often (appear) indifferent or euphoric and have inappropriate jocularity.”
For example, a 2005 case study describes a 57-year-old woman who suddenly morphed into a more gregarious version of herself after she suffered a small stroke. “She had become the life of the party and would laugh, joke,and sing all the time,” according to the report.
However, although people with Witzelsucht are constantly making others laugh, many are – paradoxically – unaffected by humor themselves. As another case study of a 56-year-old man reports: “On some occasions, he showed no smiles or laughter to the jokes … which made everyone laugh loudly, while on other occasions, he was not able to appreciate jokes from the others.”
There aren’t that many ways to treat the condition. When it’s possible, doctors attempt to treat the underlying disease or injury that’s causing the Witzelsucht symptoms. But often they’ll attempt to use behavioral therapy to rein in the giggles. However, as Heilman explains, the jokiness “can be annoying to family and caregivers, (but) it is usually not a terrible problem.”
Chen YC, Tseng CY, & Pai MC (2005). Witzelsucht after right putaminal hemorrhage: a case report. Acta neurologica Taiwanica, 14 (4), 195-200 PMID: 16425547
Mendez MF (2005). Moria and Witzelsucht from frontotemporal dementia. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 17 (3), 429-30 PMID: 16179673
Photo: NiJoker / Flickr