What Is Cyclothymia?

Also known as cyclothymic disorder, the condition is different from other types of bipolar disorder.

Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder, sometimes referred to as cyclothymic disorder.

Both cyclothymia and bipolar disorder are characterized by extreme mood swings, from the highs of mania to the lows of depression, with short periods of neutral time in between.

The difference lies in the intensity: People with bipolar disorder will experience major depression and clinically diagnosed mania, while patients with cyclothymia experience low-grade depression and mild mania.

With cyclothymia “it may seem like you’re just going through a string of good days and a string of bad days,” says psychiatrist Kathleen Franco, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Ohio.

“But the mood shifts keep going, and there’s little neutral time in between.”

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Cyclothymia Symptoms

Besides cycling between the two mood extremes, the other criteria that will determine a diagnosis of cyclothymia include:

You’ve experienced these mood swings for at least two years.
At least once in the two-year period, you have significant distress or social impairment.
Your symptom-free intervals last no more than three months.
Your symptoms don’t meet the requirements of any other bipolar disorder.
Cyclothymia vs. Bipolar Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Only a doctor can accurately make the clinical distinction between cyclothymia and bipolar disorder.

But generally speaking, the symptoms of a major bipolar depression include dramatic disturbances in

Symptoms can be long-lasting and dramatically reduce quality of life.

The same symptoms may be present in a cyclothymic depression, but they’re less severe (though they can have a significant impact on quality of life and social functioning).

The symptoms may last no more than two weeks, and they may cause less of a disruption in your daily routine.
The true mania of bipolar disorder, essentially the opposite of major depression, can likewise be debilitating.

It may be accompanied by feelings of euphoria and indestructibility — a sense of being “on top of the world” — that can include reckless behaviors such as driving too fast or abusing drugs or alcohol.

The manic person may go a day or two without sleeping. He may talk rapidly, moving from topic to topic without making much sense.

The hypomania seen with cyclothymia is less dramatic and not as long-lasting. Your symptoms may be so mild as to seem normal — mild sleeplessness, for example, or chattiness and increased energy.

While some people living with cyclothymia are happy to go without treatment, it may be important for others to recognize and monitor the condition, because one-third to one-half of people with cyclothymic disorder go on to develop full-blown bipolar disorder.

This escalation is especially prevalent if bipolar disorders run in the family.

Although preventive treatment hasn’t been identified yet, there is some hope among researchers that early treatment for cyclothymia may prevent full-blown bipolar disorder from developing.

Cyclothymia Treatment

There’s no cure for cyclothymia.

Medicines usually prescribed for bipolar disorder, such as mood stabilizers, don’t always work on cyclothymia.

More often, treatment for cyclothymia involves talk therapy with a trusted psychologist who can help patients recognize the triggers that may increase the severity and frequency of their mood swings.
For example, mood shifts can be triggered by lack of sleep, alcohol consumption, or traveling through many time zones.

Light therapy can also help treat cyclothymia.

In time and with the help of a trusted support team — beginning with your doctor — you can learn to manage your moods and your response to them, and live a life less disrupted by cyclothymia.

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