Understanding Cyclothymia

Classified as a mood disorder, cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar II disorder.  This disorder consists of recurrent mood disturbances between the elevated, irritable mood (hypomania) and the depressed mood (dysthymia). 

A single hypomanic episode is enough to diagnose cyclothymic disorder.  However, most individuals also have depressed periods.  The rate appears equal in men or women, although more women often seek treatment.

Causes of cyclothymia

Cyclothymia is considered as having caused by genetic factors, similar in bipolar disorders.  Many patients have a family history of major depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, or dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Symptoms of cyclothymia

Symptoms of cyclothymia are present for at least two years, such as periods of mild yet unstable hypomanic and dysthymic moods that do not fulfill the criteria for major depressive disorder.  This instability usually develops during late adolescence, and usually appears within months at a time. 

Mood swings are usually perceived as unrelated to the individual’s life events.  Because these mood swings are relatively mild and episodes of mood elevation may even be enjoyable, cyclothymia is not frequently diagnosed.

How to treat cyclothymia

In some cases, patients with cyclothymia may prefer no treatment or have supportive psychotherapy alone.  Lithium, a mood stabilizer commonly used in treating bipolar disorder, has been proven to help a substantial number of cyclothymia patients.


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