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3 min read

Cyclothymia

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Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is a mild form of bipolar disorder (manic depression).

A person with cyclothymia will have a history of mood swings that range from mild depression to emotional highs.

Most people's symptoms are mild enough that they don't seek mental health treatment, so cyclothymia often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

However, mood swings can disrupt your personal and work relationships, so if you think you have cyclothymia, it's worth seeing your doctor for treatment.

Cyclothymia can progress into bipolar disorder, and it's often not until this late stage that people seek treatment.

How do I know I have cyclothymia?

If you have cyclothymia, you'll have periods of low mood followed by periods of euphoria and excitement, when you don't need much sleep (these 'up' periods are called 'hypomania').

The periods of low mood don't last long enough and are not severe enough to merit a diagnosis of clinical depression, but they'll probably interfere with your ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

Mood swings will be fairly frequent, as well as persistent – you'll have no more than 2 symptom-free months in a row.

Your fluctuating moods need to have lasted at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents) for cyclothymia to be diagnosed.

What are the causes of cyclothymia?

The causes of cyclothymia are unknown, but there's probably a genetic link – cyclothymia, clinical depression and bipolar disorder all tend to run in families.

Cyclothymia usually begins early in life and is equally common in both men and women.

How is cyclothymia treated?

No medicines have been specifically approved for use in treating cyclothymia, but mood-stabilising medication and/or antidepressants have been shown to help, along with psychotherapy.

Mood stabilisers include:

  • lithium, which is commonly used to treat bipolar disorder
  • anti-seizure drugs such as carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine

However, not all people with cyclothymia respond to medication.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be very effective. CBT involves talking to a trained therapist to find ways to help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It can't remove your problems, but can help you manage them in a more positive way.

It may also help to join a support group, so you can talk to others who share your experiences and problems.

Outlook

Less than half of people with cyclothymia will eventually develop bipolar disorder, where their elevated or depressed moods become more severe.

Other people will find that their cyclothymia continues and they need to manage this as a lifelong condition, or they find it disappears with time.

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