Cyclothymia is a relatively uncommon mood disorder that is characterized by emotional highs and lows. Individuals with cyclothymia experience a visible shift of moods from baseline levels, but these mood swings never reach the extremes or levels of severity of those associated with bipolar disorder. A person with cyclothymia can alternate between moments when they feel up and moments when they feel down and can be moderately stable in between.
Cyclothymia symptoms are comparable to the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but are less severe. Individuals with cyclothymia can usually function on a daily basis, although mood changes can be erratic and can cause significant disruption to daily functioning. The emotional highs of cyclothymia are described as hypomanic symptoms and the lows are defined as mild depressive symptoms.
Symptoms of hypomania include an inflated sense of euphoria, high levels of optimism, and exaggerated self-esteem. Individuals can be overly talkative, have racing thoughts, increased physical activity, and a diminished need for sleep. People who experience hypomanic symptoms can show irritability, agitation, and can make poor decisions that result in risky behaviors. Individuals can also show a high level of distraction and have difficulty concentrating.
Depressive symptoms in cyclothymic disorder include feelings of sadness, increased tearfulness, irritability, and a lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Individuals experiencing a cyclothymic low can display noticeable weight changes, have difficulty sleeping, show periods of restlessness, and have increased levels of fatigue. People may have difficulty concentrating, low-self esteem, and lowered confidence levels. Suicidal thoughts can be present during a cyclothymic low, but usually occur more frequently with symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Cyclothymia usually begins during the adolescent and young adulthood years and impacts both males and females similarly. The cause of cyclothymia is currently unknown, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Cyclothymia appears to be hereditary, as it tends to run in families. Environmental factors may also play a role, including trauma, abuse, neglect, or elongated periods of stress.
If cyclothymia goes untreated, a person may be at a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder later in life. A person may also experience difficulty in regulating their emotions, show a lack of coping skills, and portray impairment that can impact various areas of a person’s life. Other complications of untreated cyclothymia can include the development of a substance use problem, increased risk of suicide, or development of another co-occurring mental health condition.
Treatment of cyclothymia when the earliest symptoms appear can help prevent the mood disorder from intensifying and worsening. In addition, preventative treatment can help mild symptoms from turning into full-fledged episodes of hypomania, mania, or depression. A mental health practitioner will assist a person in lessening the amount and severity of symptoms so that they can effectively function on a daily basis. Mental health professionals will help a person to prevent relapse by promoting maintenance treatment and will address any other co-occurring mental health or substance use conditions.
Psychotherapy and medications are the main form of treatment for cyclothymia. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common type of treatment to help individuals to reduce negative thought patterns and to learn effective coping mechanisms. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is another type of therapy that helps people to stabilize daily rhythms, allowing for improved levels of mood management.
There are currently no medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of cyclothymia. However, mood stabilizers and other medications used to treat bipolar disorder can be used to treat symptoms of cyclothymia in order to prevent episodes of hypomanic and depressive symptoms.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.