Introduction 

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 do not seek mental health treatment, so cyclothymia often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

However, the mood swings can disrupt your personal and work relationships. If you think you have cyclothymia, it may help to see your GP or seek advice from a mental health resource.

Cyclothymia can progress into bipolar disorder and people often don't seek treatment until this late stage.

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.

The periods of low mood don't last long enough and aren't 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 two symptom-free months in a row.

Your fluctuating moods need to have lasted at least two years (one year in childen and adolescents) for cyclothymia to be diagnosed.

What are the causes?

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

In some people, traumatic events or experiences may act as a trigger for the condition, such as severe illness or long periods of stress.

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

How is it treated?

No medicines have been specifically approved for use in treating cyclothymia, but mood-stabilising medication and/or antidepressants have been used in practice and may be helpful, along with psychotherapy.

Mood stabilisers include:

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

Recently, some antipsychotics such as quetiapine have also been used as mood stabilisers.

However, not all people with cyclothymia respond to medication.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be 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 may help you manage them in a more positive way.

Find your nearest depression support service.

It may also help to join a support group, so you can talk to others who share your experiences and problems. You can also ask your GP if there's a local group you can join.

Outlook

It's not known how many people will go on to develop bipolar disorder. However, it's been estimated that less than half of people with cyclothymia see 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 that it disappears with time.

Page last reviewed: 12/11/2014

Next review due: 12/11/2016