Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder)
Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder)
Cyclothymia (si-klo-THIGH-me-uh), also called cyclothymic disorder, is a mood disorder. Cyclothymia causes emotional ups and downs, but they're not as extreme as in bipolar disorder type I or II.
With cyclothymia, you experience periods when your mood noticeably shifts up and down from your baseline. You may feel on top of the world for a time, followed by a low period when you feel somewhat blue. Between these cyclothymic highs and lows, you may feel stable and fine.
Compared with bipolar disorder I or II, the highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme. Still, it's critical to seek help managing these symptoms because they increase your risk of bipolar disorder I or II. Treatment options for cyclothymia include talk therapy (psychotherapy), medications and close, ongoing follow-up with your doctor.
Cyclothymia symptoms alternate between emotional highs and lows. The highs of cyclothymia are characterized by symptoms of an elevated mood (hypomanic symptoms), which resemble those of mania but are less severe. The lows consist of mild or moderate depressive symptoms.
Cyclothymia symptoms are similar to those of bipolar disorder I or II, but they're less severe. When you have cyclothymia, you can typically function in your daily life, though not always well. The unpredictable nature of your mood shifts may significantly disrupt your life because you never know how you're going to feel.
Hypomanic phase of cyclothymia
Depressive phase of cyclothymia
For the first two years after symptoms begin, the highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme. After that time, your highs and lows may become more pronounced. You may have depressive episodes that meet the criteria for full-blown major depressive episodes. Or you could experience full manic episodes.
When to see a doctor
If a loved one has symptoms of cyclothymia, talk openly and honestly with that person about your concerns. You can't force someone to seek professional help, but you can offer support and help find a qualified doctor or mental health provider.
If you just can't make that call, reach out to someone else — immediately — such as your doctor, mental health provider, family member, friend or someone in your faith community.
It's not known specifically what causes cyclothymia. As with many mental health disorders, research shows that it may result from a combination of:
Cyclothymia is thought to be relatively rare. But true estimates are hard to pin down because people may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as having other mood disorders, such as depression.
Cyclothymia typically starts during teenage years or young adulthood. The condition affects about the same number of males and females.
Left untreated, cyclothymia can result in significant emotional problems that affect every area of your life — and it might develop into bipolar disorder I or II, based on worsening or more-extreme signs and symptoms.
Preparing for your appointment
If you have signs and symptoms common to cyclothymia, call your doctor. After your initial appointment, your doctor may refer you to a mental health provider who can help make a firm diagnosis and create the right treatment plan for you.
Here's some information on how to prepare for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Questions to ask at your first appointment
Questions to ask if you're referred to a specialist
Don't hesitate to ask for more information if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor or other health care provider must determine if you have cyclothymia, bipolar disorder I or II, depression or another condition that may be causing your symptoms. To help pinpoint a diagnosis for your symptoms, you'll likely have several exams and tests, which generally include:
Diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia
Diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia include those below.
Treatments and drugs
Cyclothymia requires lifelong treatment — even during periods when you feel better — usually guided by a mental health provider skilled in treating the condition.
To treat cyclothymia, your doctor or mental health provider aims to:
The main treatments for cyclothymia are medications and psychotherapy.
If one medication doesn't work well for you, there are many others to consider. Keep trying until you find one that works well for you. Your doctor may advise combining certain medications for maximum effect. It can take several weeks after first starting a medication to notice an improvement in your cyclothymia symptoms.
All medications have side effects and possible health risks. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks.
Medications such as mood stabilizers may harm a developing fetus or nursing infant. Women with cyclothymic disorder who want to become pregnant or do become pregnant must fully explore with their health care providers the benefits and risks of medications.
Types of therapy that may help cyclothymia include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can do some things for yourself that will build on your treatment plan. In addition to professional treatment, follow these lifestyle and self-care steps for cyclothymia:
Coping and support
Coping with cyclothymia can be difficult. Medications can have unwanted side effects, and you may feel angry or resentful about having a serious condition that requires lifelong treatment. During periods when you feel better, or during hypomanic episodes, you may be tempted to stop your cyclothymia treatment. Here are some ways to cope with cyclothymia:
There's no sure way to prevent cyclothymia. However, treatment at the earliest indication of a mental health disorder can help prevent cyclothymia from worsening. Long-term preventive treatment also can help prevent minor episodes from becoming full-blown episodes of mania or depression.
Last Updated: 2012-06-13
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