Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder)
Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder)
Cyclothymia (si-kloh-THIGH-me-uh), also called cyclothymic disorder, is a mild form of bipolar disorder. Like bipolar disorder, cyclothymia is a chronic mood disorder that causes emotional ups and downs.
With cyclothymia, you experience periods when your mood noticeably fluctuates from your baseline. You may feel on top of the world for a time, followed by a low period when you feel somewhat blue. Between these cyclothymic highs and lows, you may feel stable and fine.
Compared with bipolar disorder, the highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme. Still, it's critical to seek help managing these symptoms because they increase your risk of bipolar disorder. Treatment options for cyclothymia include psychotherapy, medications, and — most important — close, ongoing follow-up with your doctor.
Cyclothymia symptoms include an alternating pattern of emotional highs and lows. The highs of cyclothymia are characterized hypomanic symptoms, which resemble those of mania, but are less severe. The lows consist of mild or moderate depressive symptoms.
Cyclothymia symptoms are generally similar to those of bipolar disorder, but they're less severe. When you have cyclothymia, you can typically function in your daily life, though not always well. The unpredictable nature of your mood shifts may significantly disrupt your life because you never know how you're going to feel — and you can't just will yourself to live life on an even keel.
Hypomanic phase of cyclothymic disorder
Depressive phase of cyclothymic disorder
When to see a doctor
If you're reluctant to seek treatment, try to work up the courage to confide in someone, whether it's a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a faith leader, or someone else you trust. He or she can help you take the first steps to successful treatment.
If you have a loved one you think may have symptoms of cyclothymia, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. You can't force someone to seek professional help, but you can offer encouragement and support and help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider.
If you have a loved one who has harmed himself or herself, or is seriously considering doing so, take him or her to the hospital or call for emergency help.
It's not known specifically what causes cyclothymia. As with many mental disorders, research shows that it may result from a combination of:
Cyclothymia is thought to be relatively rare. But true estimates are hard to pin down because people may be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as having other mood disorders, such as depression.
Cyclothymia typically starts during adolescence or young adulthood. The condition affects about the same number of men and women.
Left untreated, cyclothymia can result in significant emotional problems that affect every area of your life. In addition, cyclothymia significantly increases your risk of developing bipolar disorder.
Preparing for your appointment
If you have signs and symptoms common to cyclothymia, call your doctor. After your initial appointment, your doctor may refer you to a mental health provider who can help make a firm diagnosis and create the right treatment plan for you.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Questions to ask your doctor at your initial appointment include:
Questions to ask if you are referred to a mental health provider include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared in advance, don't hesitate to ask for more information at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To help pinpoint a diagnosis for your symptoms, you'll likely have several exams and tests. Your doctor or other health care provider must determine if you have cyclothymia, bipolar disorder, depression or another condition that may be causing your symptoms.
These exams and tests generally include:
Diagnostic criteria for cyclothymic disorder
Diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia include:
Treatments and drugs
Cyclothymia is a long-term condition that requires lifelong treatment, even during periods when you feel better. Cyclothymia treatment is usually guided by a mental health provider skilled in treating the condition. Because cyclothymia has a high risk of developing into bipolar disorder, it's important to get effective and appropriate treatment.
Treatment is also vital for reducing the frequency and severity of hypomanic and depressive episodes and allowing you to live a more balanced and enjoyable life. Maintenance treatment — continued treatment during periods of remission — is also important. If you skip maintenance treatment, you may be at higher risk of having a relapse of cyclothymia symptoms or having minor episodes turn into larger problems.
If you have problems with alcohol or substance abuse, you must get treatment for those, too, since they can worsen cyclothymia symptoms.
The main treatments for cyclothymic disorder are medications and psychotherapy.
If one medication doesn't work well for you, there are many others to consider. Keep trying until you find one that works well for you. Your doctor may advise combining certain medications for maximum effect. It can take several weeks after first starting a medication to notice an improvement in your cyclothymia symptoms.
Be aware that all medications have side effects and possible health risks. Certain antipsychotic medications, for instance, may increase the risk of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. If you take these medications, talk to your doctor about being monitored for health problems. Also, mood-stabilizing medications may harm a developing fetus or nursing infant. Women with cyclothymic disorder who want to become pregnant or do become pregnant must fully explore with their health care providers the benefits and risks of medications.
Types of therapy that may help cyclothymia include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Cyclothymia generally isn't an illness that you can treat on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will build on your treatment plan. In addition to professional treatment, follow these lifestyle and self-care steps for cyclothymia:
Coping and support
Coping with cyclothymia can be difficult. Medications can have unwanted side effects, and you may feel angry or resentful about having a serious condition that requires lifelong treatment. During periods when you feel better, or during hypomanic episodes, you may be tempted to stop your cyclothymia treatment. Here are some ways to cope with cyclothymic disorder:
There's no sure way to prevent cyclothymia. However, treatment at the earliest indication of a mental health disorder can help prevent cyclothymia from worsening. Long-term preventive treatment also can help prevent minor episodes from becoming full-blown episodes of mania or depression.
Last Updated: 2010-04-16
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