Rapid cycling bipolar disorder is essentially the same as traditional bipolar disorder. However, it’s marked by the fact that you’ll struggle with 4 or more distinct mood episodes – alternating between manic and depressive episodes – within a single year. ¹
In contrast, those who struggle with traditional bipolar disorder will only experience one or two episodes per year. ²
Rapid cycling bipolar disorder can appear in the traditional 4 types of bipolar disorder, which include:
Unlike other types of bipolar, rapid cycling cannot be diagnosed by a medical professional. Instead, it’s a reference for how frequently someone struggles with alternating mood swings.
While rapid cycling may appear temporarily in some people, it can also be an ongoing battle for others.
Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
As mentioned, rapid cycling bipolar is NOT marked by the symptoms themselves, but rather the frequency of said symptoms.
With that said, symptoms are identical to other forms of bipolar disorder. These include:
- Bipolar 1 – Manic episodes that last 7 days followed by depressive episodes.
- Bipolar 2 – Depressive episodes followed by hypomania episodes (fully-fledged mania).
- Cyclothymic Disorder – Less severe emotional highs and lows. ³
However, to get a better idea of how these symptoms work, we need to take a look at each episode:
During a manic episode, you’re likely to experience:
- Anger and irritability
- Grand thoughts
- Impulsivity (uncontrollable outbursts)
- Intense physical and mental energy
- Lack of sleep
- Overemphasized optimism and self-confidence
- Racing thoughts and speech
In severe cases, you may also experience a psychosis (hallucinations and delusions). ⁴
If you experience hypomania, you’ll experience similar symptoms, but to a less severe degree.
During a depressive episode, you’re likely to experience:
- Abnormal aches and pains
- Chronic sadness and potential crying
- Difficulty concentrating (forgetfulness)
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt
- Irritability, anxiety, anger
- Lack of energy (fatigue)
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Pessimism, indifference
- Sleeping too much (or unable to sleep)
- Substance abuse disorder
- Withdrawal from socialization
In severe cases, depressive episodes can lead to thoughts of death, self-harm, and suicide.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal ideation, it’s vital to seek out help. In emergency situations, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. In other situations, you can reach out to the National Lifeline at 988.
Most people who struggle with bipolar will experience 5 or more symptoms during a two-week period. But these may vary, depending on how severe or mild your bipolar is.
What Causes Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder?
Current research indicates that between 12% and 24% of those with bipolar have rapid cycling. ⁵ However, it remains unclear what causes some people struggle with traditional bipolar and some with rapid cycling.
If you already struggle with bipolar disorder, then you’re at risk of developing rapid cycling. Women may be more at risk than men, but this also cannot be confirmed. ⁶
Some medical researchers believe that rapid cycling bipolar disorder is caused by:
- History of substance abuse
- Severe bipolar 1
- Thyroid complications
Other researchers believe a person is more vulnerable to rapid cycling when bipolar appears at an earlier age and goes for a long period of time before treatment.
How to Diagnose Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder?
As mentioned, rapid cycling bipolar disorder is not a diagnosable condition. Instead, you’ll be diagnosed with a standard form of bipolar disorder and from there, a medical professional will determine whether or not you struggle with rapid cycling.
In order for this, you must struggle with symptoms for at least 1 year. Rapid cycling bipolar reveals itself by whether or not you experience 4 episodes within that year.
Admittedly, rapid cycling can be difficult to detect. Especially if someone has longer periods of a depressive episode. For this reason, you may struggle with rapid cycling bipolar that goes unnoticed by your doctor.
How to Treat Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder?
Rapid cycling is treated in the same fashion as traditional bipolar disorder; through medication and psychotherapy.
Since everyone’s reactions to both treatments vary, it may take some trial and error before your doctor determines the right combination for you. Naturally, you may also experience little to no relief during these periods.
When it comes to medication, rapid cycling bipolar is usually treated with one of the following:
- Antidepressants ⁷
- Atypical antipsychotics ⁸
- Mood stabilizers ⁹
When it comes to psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common. This will allow you to identify negative thought patterns and develop coping mechanisms to overcome them. ¹⁰
If you struggle with 4 or more episodes of mania and depression annually, then you’re likely struggling with rapid cycling. While this condition is treatable, it may prove to be more difficult than other forms of bipolar disorder.
Still have questions about what rapid cycling bipolar disorder is?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ British Journal of General Practice (BJGP): On madness: a personal account of rapid cycling bipolar disorder
² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Bipolar Disorder
³ StatPearls [Internet]: Cyclothymic Disorder
⁴ HHS Public Access: Psychosis in Bipolar Disorder: Does It Represent a More ‘Severe’ Illness?
⁵ The British Journal of Psychiatry: Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder: cross-national community study
⁶ The Psychiatric Clinics of North America: Gender differences in bipolar disorder
⁷ Psychiatry (MMC): Antidepressants in Bipolar Disorder
⁸ CADTH Rapid Response Reports: Combination Atypical Antipsychotics in Adolescents or Adults with Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features
⁹ StatPearls [Internet]: Mood Stabilizers