Definition

What is cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia – or cyclothymic disorder – is a relatively mild mood disorder. In cyclothymic disorder, moods swing between short periods of mild depression and hypomania, an elevated mood. The low and high mood swings never reach the severity or duration of major depressive or full mania episodes. People with cyclothymic disorder have milder symptoms than occur in full-blown bipolar disorder.

How common is cyclothymia?

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. Equal numbers of men and women are affected. Symptoms usually begin in adolescence or young adulthood. The onset of cyclothymia is frequently hard to identify. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of cyclothymia?

In cyclothymia, moods fluctuate from mild depression to hypomania and back again. In most people, the pattern is irregular and unpredictable. Hypomania or depression can last for days or weeks. In between up and down moods, a person might have normal moods for more than a month — or may cycle continuously from hypomanic to depressed, with no normal period in between.

Compared with more serious mood disorders, the mood symptoms of cyclothymia are mild. Depressive symptoms in cyclothymic disorder never reach the criteria for major depression. Elevated mood never reaches the definition for mania.

Cyclothymia can straddle the line between mental illness and normal variations in mood and personality. Some people with mild symptoms are highly successful in life, driven by their hypomania to express individual talents. On the other hand, chronic depression and irritability can ruin marriages and professional relationships.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes cyclothymia?

It’s not known specifically what causes cyclothymia. As with many mental health disorders, research shows that it may result from a combination of:

  • Heredity, as cyclothymia tends to run in families
  • Your body’s biochemical processes, such as changes in brain chemistry
  • Environment, such as traumatic experiences or prolonged periods of stress

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cyclothymia?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cyclothymia diagnosed?

Your doctor or other health care provider must determine if you have cyclothymia, bipolar I or II disorder, 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:

  • Physical exam. A physical exam and lab tests may be done to help identify any medical problems that could be causing your symptoms.
  • Psychological evaluation. A doctor or mental health provider will talk to you about your thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. You may also fill out a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. With your permission, family members or close friends may be asked to provide information about your symptoms, such as possible hypomanic or depressive symptoms.
  • Mood charting. To identify what’s going on, your doctor may have you keep a daily record of your moods, sleep patterns or other factors that could help with diagnosis and finding the right treatment.

Diagnostic criteria

For a diagnosis of cyclothymia, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists these points:

  • You’ve had many periods of elevated mood (hypomanic symptoms) and periods of depressive symptoms for at least two years (one year for children and teenagers) — with these highs and lows occurring during at least half that time.
  • Periods of stable moods usually last less than two months.
  • Your symptoms significantly affect you socially, at work, at school or in other important areas.
  • Your symptoms don’t meet the criteria for bipolar disorder, major depression or another mental disorder.
  • Your symptoms aren’t caused by substance use or a medical condition.

How is cyclothymia treated?

Cyclothymia frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated. Most people’s symptoms are mild enough that they do not seek mental health treatment. In fact, some people resist the idea of treatment, which reduces their “up” episodes as well as “down.”

The depressive symptoms of cyclothymic disorder are typically more frequent, unpleasant, and disabling than the hypomanic symptoms. Feelings of depression or instability are usually what cause people with cyclothymia to seek help.

No medicines are specifically approved for the treatment of cyclothymia, although mood stabilizers such as lithium or lamotrigine are sometimes recommended as a possible strategy to reduce mood fluctuations. Antidepressants such Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft are generally not recommended unless someone develops a full major depression, which, by definition, does not occur in cyclothymic disorder. There is also a small risk that antidepressants could trigger or worsen mania symptoms in a subgroup of vulnerable people. Antidepressants alone also are not known to improve fluctuations in mood, which are hallmark characteristics of cyclothymic disorder.

Technically speaking, when elevated or depressed moods become severe, a person no longer has cyclothymia, but rather has bipolar disorder. This progression to more severe symptoms can happen, and this is when many people first receive treatment.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cyclothymia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cyclothymia:

  • Take your medications as directed. Even if you’re feeling well, resist any temptation to skip your medications. If you stop, cyclothymia symptoms are likely to come back.
  • Pay attention to warning signs. You may have identified a pattern to your cyclothymia symptoms and what triggers them. Follow your treatment plan if you feel you’re facing a period of high or low symptoms. Involve family members or friends in watching for warning signs. Addressing symptoms early may keep them from getting worse.
  • Quit drinking or using recreational drugs. Alcohol and recreational drugs may trigger mood changes. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble quitting on your own.
  • Check first before taking other medications. Call the doctor who’s treating you for cyclothymia before you take over-the-counter medications or medications prescribed by another doctor. Sometimes other medications trigger periods of cyclothymia or may interfere with medications you’re already taking.
  • Keep a record. Track your moods, daily routines and significant life events. These records may help you and your mental health provider understand the effect of treatments and identify thinking patterns and behaviors associated with cyclothymia symptoms.
  • Get regular physical activity and exercise. Moderate, regular physical activity and exercise can help steady your mood. Working out releases brain chemicals that make you feel good (endorphins), can help you sleep and has a number of other benefits. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Don’t stay up all night. Instead, get plenty of sleep. Sleeping enough is an important part of managing your mood. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or mental health provider about what you can do.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: September 29, 2017 | Last Modified: September 29, 2017

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