What is a Cyclothymic Disorder?

What is a Cyclothymic Disorder?

Cyclothymic disorder (sometimes referred to as cyclothymia) is a mild mood disorder that defined by swings of hypomania and mild depression. Being as it’s so similar to bipolar disorder, it’s common to mix up the two conditions. However, it’s important to understand cyclothymic disorder is not nearly as severe as bipolar disorder. ¹

Being a type of bipolar disorder, cyclothymia is defined by low and high mood swings which are often categorized by depressive or manic episodes. While this condition isn’t as well-known as bipolar, it remains quite common with anywhere between 0.4% to 1% struggling. ²

Throughout this article, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about cyclothymic disorder. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Cyclothymic Disorder Symptoms

People who struggle with cyclothymic disorder will experience two sets of symptoms: emotional highs and emotional lows. While these symptoms completely contrast one another, they are integrated by the condition. Not to mention, while these symptoms are extremely similar to bipolar I and bipolar II disorder, they aren’t nearly as severe.

Symptoms for cyclothymia include:

Hypomanic Symptoms

  • Agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Easily distracted
  • Extreme optimism
  • Euphoria (exaggerated feeling of happiness)
  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Inflated drive to complete goals (possibly related to work, school, social, sex)
  • Irritability
  • Lack of sleep (may lead to insomnia)
  • Poor judgement (can lead to risky behavior or bad decisions)

Depressive Symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulties with sleep (lack of or too much sleep)
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Restlessness
  • Tearfulness
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts of death)
  • Weight fluctuations (loss of or gain of weight)

What Causes Cyclothymic Disorder?

Scientists still don’t completely understand what causes cyclothymia. However, when figuring out if you struggle with the condition or not, a mental health professional may look into the following:

  • Genetics – Does cyclothymia run in your family? If so, research has found that you’re at an increased risk of developing it. ³
  • Changes in the Brain – Brain scans may be able to pick up differences in the brain (such as neurobiology) directly caused by cyclothymia. ⁴
  • Environmental – While it’s not completely understood, scientists are aware that certain aspects of your environment can trigger mental health conditions. For example, traumatic experiences or long periods of stress may lead to cyclothymia. ⁵

If you haven’t experienced any of the above-mentioned causes, but still undergo cyclothymia symptoms, we highly suggest you still consult a mental health professional. Again, scientists still haven’t figured out all the direct causes of this condition.

Risk Factors of Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymia is quite rare compared to other mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder. With that, it’s difficult to understand all the risk factors associated with the illness. However, as with symptoms, there are some similarities found in other mood disorders.

Most notably, cyclothymia commonly begins when one is a teenager or young adult. ⁶ Those with the condition are also at risk of:

  • Development of an anxiety disorder
  • Development of bipolar I or II disorder
  • Emotional difficulties that effect various aspects of your life
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation

Risk of Suicide

If you or someone you love is struggling with cyclothymic disorder and has shown signs of suicidal ideation, it’s important to seek out help immediately. If you or someone you love is currently posing a risk to themselves or others, it’s vital to call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

If you’re in need of someone to talk to, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Cyclothymic Disorder Diagnosis

When you go to see a mental health professional, it’s likely they will consider the following conditions for a diagnosis:

  • Bipolar I disorder
  • Bipolar II disorder
  • Cyclothymic disorder
  • Depression

While there is no official test that can pinpoint whether or not you struggle with the conditions, a doctor will go through the following in order to rule out other conditions:

  • Psychological Evaluation – You’ll be interviewed by a mental health professional in order for them to get a sense of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During this segment, you’ll want to discuss all the symptoms you have experienced. You may be asked to fill out a self-assessment in order for professionals to further get a sense of your situation. Not to mention, family members and friends may also be asked to discuss your condition.
  • Physical Exam – In order to rule out other medical issues that provide similar symptoms, a doctor may perform a physical exam along with lab tests.
  • Mood Charting – While this isn’t required for everyone, some doctors may as you to keep a daily record of your moods in order to further help with your diagnosis.

What’s the Criteria for Diagnosis?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are a number of points an individual must meet in order to be diagnosed with cyclothymia. These include: ⁷

  • An individual experience periods of elevated mood (hypomanic symptoms) along with periods of depressive symptoms for at least two years (one year in children and teenagers). During those years, these high and low mood fluctuations must take place for at least half the time.
  • If an individual experience periods of stable moods, these periods must last less than two months.
  • Symptoms of the condition must have a significant affect on important areas of an individual’s life (i.e. work, school, social).
  • The symptoms an individual experience don’t meet the criteria for bipolar disorder, major depression, or any other mental health condition.
  • The symptoms an individual experiences don’t meet the criteria for a substance abuse disorder or any other medical condition.

Cyclothymic Disorder Treatment

Like many mental health conditions, cyclothymic disorder requires lifelong treatment as symptoms can relapse no matter whether you feel better or not. Not to mention, cyclothymia can lead to bipolar I or II disorder and it’s vital to prevent this from happening.

There are two main forms of cyclothymia treatment. These include:


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently doesn’t approve of any medication for the treatment of cyclothymia. However, your doctor may prescribe similar medications used to treat bipolar disorder in order to reduce symptoms.

It should be noted that the medications you receive may hold risk of addiction. With that, it’s vital you only take this medication at your doctor’s recommendation.


People with cyclothymia tend to do much better under psychological counseling. These talk therapies can happen in an individual, family, or group setting. Currently, there are a two different types of psychotherapies that have been found to help with cyclothymic disorder:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – focuses on identifying negative thought and behavior patterns and replacing them with positive ones. Many use CBT as a way to identify symptoms and triggers. From there, the goal is to develop effective strategies in managing and coping with these symptoms.
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) – focuses on maintaining healthy daily rhythms. These include your wake/sleep cycle, when you eat, and other regular activities you perform. It’s been found that those with a mood disorder tend to do better when they’re on a consistent daily routine for various aspects of their life.

What Can You Do About Cyclothymia?

Since cyclothymic disorder is a lifelong condition, it’s in your best interest to follow certain self-care steps in order to ensure the prevention of symptoms. These may include:

  • Understand Your Warning Signs – If you’ve lived with cyclothymia for a while, it’s likely you understand the pattern of your symptoms and what triggers them. Be sure to address these warning signs early on in order to prevent them from worsening.
  • Take Medication As Told – If you were given medication for cyclothymia, it’s important to take it exactly as your doctor recommends. Even if you don’t feel symptoms, your medication may be what’s preventing them from returning.
  • Avoid Drugs and Alcohol – It’s important to stay away from drugs and alcohol as these tend to exasperate mood disorders. If you’re currently struggling with addiction, you’ll want to consult your doctor about treatment for that.
  • Journal Your Moods – It can help greatly to keep a record of your moods, daily routines, and significant events. This will allow you and your doctor to understand your thinking pattern and further develop an effective treatment plan.
  • Stay Physically Active – Even just moderate exercise can help to steady your mood. It’s important to keep active as this releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in your brain in order to help with other aspects of your daily life.
  • Sleep Regularly – It’s important to get the right amount of sleep as your wake/sleep cycle plays a major role in your mood. If you have difficulty with sleeping, you should consult your doctor.

Final Word

While cyclothymia is a lifelong condition, it’s possible to manage and prevent symptoms from flaring up. With the right kind of treatment plan and effective coping mechanisms, you can overcome this condition and move on to living a fulfilling life.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning cyclothymic disorder?

We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ MedlinePlus: Cyclothymic disorder

² StatPearls [Internet]: Cyclothymic Disorder

³ Neuroscience (HHS Public Access): The Genetics of Bipolar Disorder

⁴ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: Cognitive neuroscience and brain imaging in bipolar disorder

⁵ International Journal of Bipolar Disorders (Springer): The role of childhood trauma in bipolar disorders

⁶ Current opinion in psychiatry (HHS Public Access): Age of onset of mental disorders: A review of recent literature

⁷ Current Neuropharmacology (Bentham Science Publishers): Diagnosis and Treatment of Cyclothymia: The “Primacy” of Temperament

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