What Is Cyclothymia?

What Is Cyclothymia?

Untreated cyclothymia can turn into bipolar disorder.
Untreated cyclothymia can turn into bipolar disorder.

Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is a rare condition that causes mood swings. Doctors consider it a milder form of bipolar disorder, meaning the highs and lows aren’t as extreme.

Cyclothymia isn’t common. Researchers say that fewer than 1% of people have it. But it’s hard to know exact numbers because it’s easy to miss the diagnosis. It has many of the same symptoms as depression and other mood disorders.

What Triggers Cyclothymia?

Experts aren’t sure what causes cyclothymia. It may be several factors together, including:

What Are Common Cyclothymia Symptoms?

You can usually go about your daily life when you have cyclothymia. However, you might cycle through moods quickly and without warning. You can’t know when you’ll feel one way or the other.

The name for the “high” in cyclothymia is hypomania. Symptoms include:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Overconfidence, overdrive to reach goals
  • Poor judgment and risky behavior
  • Racing thoughts, talking a lot
  • Irritation and agitation
  • Too much physical activity
  • Less need for sleep
  • Being easily distracted

The low side is mild depression. When you’re in this state, your symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
  • Crying easily
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in your usual activities
  • Weight changes
  • Feeling like you don’t matter
  • Feeling guilty
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble sitting still or concentrating
  • Sluggishness
  • Thoughts of your death or suicide

How Do Doctors Make a Cyclothymia Diagnosis?

Diagnosing the disorder can take time. You may not seek help for it, especially since the depression is mild and the highs can feel good. To tell if you have it, your doctor will want to know how long and how regularly you’ve had mood swings. You may need to track your moods on paper so your doctor can get a better idea of what’s going on. Your doctor may give you a psychological test and talk to your friends and family to learn more about your behavior patterns.

It’s likely you have this disorder if:

  • It’s been happening for two years or more (or one year for kids or teens).
  • You haven’t had a steady mood for longer than two months.
  • Doctors have ruled out bipolar disorder, major depression, and other mental disorders.
  • You don’t have another condition or addiction that could explain your symptoms.
  • Your symptoms affect your job, social life, or relationships.

What Are Cyclothymia Treatment Options?

There’s no cure for cyclothymia. You’ll need to treat the symptoms for the rest of your life. Typical treatment involves:

  • Talk therapy with a trained therapist
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy that involves changing your thought patterns and learning to respond differently to events and emotions
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which focuses on making the patterns of your sleep, waking hours, diet, and exercise as steady as possible

The FDA hasn’t approved any medication just for cyclothymia. Your doctor may suggest you try medications for other disorders, such as:

Not treating your disorder can cause emotional problems down the road. It also raises your chances of:

If you find yourself thinking about suicide, call 911, go to a hospital to have a professional help you, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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Cleveland Clinic: “Cyclothymia.” Mayo Clinic: “Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder).” NHS: “Cyclothymia.” American Psychiatric Association: “What Are Bipolar Disorders?”