Cyclothymic disorder is a mental disorder. It is a mild form of bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness), in which a person has mood swings over a period of years that go from mild depression to emotional highs.
The causes of cyclothymic disorder are unknown. Major depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymia often occur together in families. This suggests that these mood disorders share similar causes.
Cyclothymia usually begins early in life. It appears to be equally common in men and women.
Symptoms may include any of the following:
Periods (episodes) of extreme happiness and high activity or energy (mania), or low mood, activity, or energy (depression) for at least 2 years (1 or more years in children and adolescents)
Mood swings (these are less severe than in bipolar disorder or major depression)
Ongoing symptoms, with no more than 2 symptom-free months in a row
Exams and Tests
The diagnosis is usually based on your mood history. Your health care provider may order blood and urine tests to rule out medical causes of mood swings.
Treatments for this disorder include mood-stabilizing medicine, antidepressants, talk therapy, or some combination of these three treatments.
Some of the more commonly used mood stabilizers are lithium and antiseizure medicines.
Some people with cyclothymia may not respond to medications as well as patients with bipolar disorder.
You can ease the stress of living with cyclothymic disorder by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.
Less than half of people with cyclothymic disorder go on to develop bipolar disorder. In other people, cyclothymia continues as a chronic condition or disappears with time.
The condition can progress to bipolar disorder.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call a mental health professional if you or a loved one has alternating periods of depression and excitement that do not go away and that affect work, school, or social life. Seek help right away if you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.
Peris RH. Bipolar disorder. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, et al., eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 30.
Timothy Rogge, MD, Medical Director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.