Cyclothymia (sy-kloe-THIE-me-uh), also called cyclothymic disorder, is a rare mood disorder. Cyclothymia causes emotional ups and downs, but they're not as extreme as those in bipolar I or II disorder.
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 down. Between these cyclothymic highs and lows, you may feel stable and fine.
Although the highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme than those of bipolar disorder, it's critical to seek help managing these symptoms because they can interfere with your ability to function and increase your risk of bipolar I or II disorder.
Treatment options for cyclothymia include talk therapy (psychotherapy), medications and close, ongoing follow-up with your doctor.
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Cyclothymia symptoms alternate between emotional highs and lows. The highs of cyclothymia include symptoms of an elevated mood (hypomanic symptoms). The lows consist of mild or moderate depressive symptoms.
Cyclothymia symptoms are similar to those of bipolar I or II disorder, 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.
Signs and symptoms of the highs of cyclothymia may include:
- An exaggerated feeling of happiness or well-being (euphoria)
- Extreme optimism
- Inflated self-esteem
- Talking more than usual
- Poor judgment that can result in risky behavior or unwise choices
- Racing thoughts
- Irritable or agitated behavior
- Excessive physical activity
- Increased drive to perform or achieve goals (sexual, work related or social)
- Decreased need for sleep
- Tendency to be easily distracted
- Inability to concentrate
Signs and symptoms of the lows of cyclothymia may include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless or empty
- Irritability, especially in children and teenagers
- Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
- Changes in weight
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Sleep problems
- Fatigue or feeling slowed down
- Problems concentrating
- Thinking of death or suicide
When to see a doctor
If you have any symptoms of cyclothymia, seek medical help as soon as possible. Cyclothymia generally doesn't get better on its own. If you're reluctant to seek treatment, work up the courage to confide in someone who can help you take that first step.
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.
Although suicidal thoughts might occur with cyclothymia, they're more likely to occur if you have bipolar I or II disorder. If you're considering suicide right now:
- Call 911 or your local emergency services number, or go to a hospital emergency department.
- Call a local crisis center or suicide hotline number — in the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press "1" to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
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:
- Heredity, as cyclothymia tends to run in families
- Differences in the way the brain works, such as changes in the brain's neurobiology
- Environment, such as traumatic experiences or prolonged periods of stress
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 the teenage years or young adulthood. It affects about the same number of males and females.
If you have cyclothymia:
- Not treating it can result in significant emotional problems that affect every area of your life
- There is a high risk of later developing bipolar I or II disorder
- Substance misuse is common
- You may also have an anxiety disorder
- You may be at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide
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 symptoms from becoming full-blown episodes of hypomania, mania or major depression.