Cyclothymic disorder is a mood disorder that causes ups and downs in your emotions and energy levels.
Cyclothymic disorder is also known as cyclothymia. This name comes from the Greek words for “circle” and “emotion” and means “to cycle between moods.”
Cyclothymic disorder is a type of bipolar disorder, sometimes unofficially called bipolar III disorder.
However, mood changes with cyclothymic disorder are less extreme than with bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder.
This condition isn’t common, with a lifetime prevalence of 0.4% to 1%.
Cyclothymic disorder is a manageable condition. Treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and daily coping methods.
Cyclothymic disorder is defined by repeat periods of hypomania (high moods) and depression (low moods) that have lasted at least 2 years in adults or 1 year in children or adolescents.
The mood changes are less extreme than with other forms of bipolar disorder, but they arise often and consistently over time.
These shifts in mood and behavior don’t meet the diagnostic criteria in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for a:
This is because they might:
- be shorter
- be less extreme
- happen less often than these criteria specify
Even still, these symptoms are strong enough to have a significant impact on your work or social life.
Many websites talk about cyclothymic disorder as a milder form of bipolar disorder. This can be difficult to read, as though you’re being told your symptoms aren’t severe enough.
But in truth, the condition can have a serious meaningful impact on your life — and it comes with its own unique challenges.
People with cyclothymic disorder deserve the same treatment access and empathy as those with other mental health conditions.
One person, as quoted by the advocacy group Mind, describes the following experience of their condition:
“[I have] cyclothymia. It can make you feel more like it must be all in your head as the symptoms are often not as extreme as bipolar.”
You might receive a diagnosis of cyclothymic disorder if you’ve spent at least 2 years experiencing hypomanic and depressive moods, but the symptoms aren’t severe enough to meet the DSM-5 criteria for bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder.
These mood shifts happen often and continuously. During the 2 years, the symptoms are present for at least half the time and have never stopped for more than 2 months, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
The symptoms of hypomania can include:
- an energetic, happy, or irritated mood
- racing thoughts
- feeling very talkative
- less need for sleep
- being easily distracted
- acting impulsively
- poor judgement
- doing activities that might be harmful, such as reckless driving or overspending
The symptoms of major depressive periods can include:
- feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
- reduced interest in things you usually enjoy
- being unable to sleep or sleeping too much
- fatigue or a loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- inability to concentrate
By definition, the symptoms in these mood states cause significant distress or get in the way of your work life, social life, or other important areas.
Some people have mixed features in their mood episodes. With mixed features, you might experience a depressed mood but feel restless, have extra energy, or feel your thoughts racing.
Many people with this diagnosis also experience high levels of anxiety. If this happens, your healthcare provider may add the clinical specifier “with anxious distress” when making a diagnosis of cyclothymic disorder.
For a diagnosis of cyclothymic disorder, your healthcare provider will rule out other causes, such as:
- bipolar I disorder
- bipolar II disorder
- schizoaffective disorder
- schizophreniform disorder
- delusional disorder
- psychotic disorder not otherwise specified
- substance use
- medication side effects
- another medical condition, such as multiple sclerosis
In the general population, cyclothymic disorder seems to be equally common in males and females. However, females may be more likely to seek treatment.
Cyclothymic disorder symptoms usually start to appear in adolescence or early adult life.
According to the DSM-5, there is a 15% to 50% risk that a person with cyclothymic disorder will go on to develop bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder.
There is a genetic component to this condition. Having close family with bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder is linked with cyclothymic disorder. But just because you may have such a genetic link in your family, that
Cyclothymic disorder is a treatable condition. Everyone is different, so it may take some time to find the treatment and coping methods that work best for you.
Remember that you’re not alone. A mental health professional or support network can help you navigate your options and manage this condition.
With effective management, you can better understand your mood shifts and maintain a more stable mood in the long term.
Fort many people, treatment involves psychotherapy, or talk therapy, along with medication and day-to-day coping strategies.
Talk therapy can help with the stress related to your ongoing high and low moods. It can help you identify, understand, and change the emotions and behaviors that cause distress.
Your healthcare provider might prescribe low doses of mood stabilizer. The type will depend on whether your anxiety or depression is more prominent.
They won’t typically recommend antidepressants unless you have major depression, which, by definition, doesn’t occur in cyclothymic disorder.
Where possible, you can often manage your risk factors to help maintain a more stable mood.
This might include:
- avoiding alcohol or substance use
- avoiding stress or practicing stress-reduction techniques
- aiming to maintain a regular pattern of sleep and exercise
These can all help boost your mental health and keep your mood stable.
Keeping a mood diary
Keeping track of your mood is a useful practice for people living with all types of bipolar disorder.
With cyclothymic disorder, mood shifts are often less pronounced. This may make it especially difficult to keep track of and understand the changes.
But tracking your mood over time can help you identify and acknowledge when your symptoms appear. This can help you identify and avoid your triggers.
You can try tracking your moods by:
- downloading a phone app designed to help you track your mood
- writing in a journal
- using a print-out chart
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) provide free wellness trackers that you can print out and stick on your wall or keep in a folder.
If you think that you or a loved one might have cyclothymic disorder, this might be a good time to talk with a healthcare professional, such as a general practice doctor or a therapist.
These days, you have plenty of options for connecting with a therapist, such as:
- over the phone
- in person
- via a virtual meeting
So, you can choose what works best for you.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you’re not alone. Call a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
For more support with managing bipolar disorder, check out the DBSA and International Bipolar Foundation websites.
The National Alliance on Mental Health also offers support and tips for living with bipolar disorder.