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January 5, 2012

What is Cyclothymia?

Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness typically characterized by extreme high and low mood swings that may dramatically impact a person's ability to function. Equally serious, but less intense in its ups and downs, is a milder form of Bipolar Disorder, called Cyclothymia. What differentiates Cyclothymia from Bipolar Disorder is that the symptoms are much less severe. Those with Bipolar Disorder experience extreme manic and major depressive episodes. In contrast, Cyclothymia's highs and lows typically consist of the considerably milder hypomania, and mild to moderate depression. Another key difference is that Bipolar Disorder sufferers may experience psychotic symptoms such as believing they have special connections to God, a political figure or celebrity-during severe episodes of mania or depression. However, people with Cyclothymia typically stay connected to reality. Cyclothymia's alternating emotional highs and lows include hypomania, which may consist of euphoric or irritable moods, excessive energy, decreased need for sleep, impulsiveness, impatience, racing thoughts, inflated self esteem, loud or rapid speech, and what's often characterized as "life of the party" behavior. Also typical of Cyclothymia are periods of depression, which often may be more frequent and disabling than hypomanic symptoms. Still, even though cyclothymic depression generally doesn't approach the deep levels of depression that are characteristic of Bipolar Disorder, the depression symptoms are most often what prompt sufferers to seek help. Cyclothymic mood patterns can last for days or even weeks, and tend to be erratic and unpredictable. In between, Cyclothymia sufferers may experience periods of normal mood continuing for more than a month, or they may continue cycling between hypomania and depression. For many sufferers, Cyclothymia may continue as a chronic condition. However, research suggests up to a 50% risk that untreated Cyclothymia may lead to the development of full-blown Bipolar Disorder. It's also not uncommon for some Cyclothymia sufferers to perceive their hypomanic moods as drivers of success, a factor that may often result in the illness going undiagnosed and untreated. At the same time, ongoing irritability and a chronically depressed mood may ultimately harm personal, as well as professional, relationships. Studies show that having an immediate family member with Bipolar Disorder, or another mood disorder, increases the risk for developing Cyclothymia. Additionally, research suggests that brain chemistry-including reduced levels of important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine-may also play a role in mood and emotions. Cyclothymia affects approximately one percent of the U.S. population and equal numbers of men and women. While it typically appears in the teen years or early adulthood, it may often be difficult to diagnose. Periods of high stress and major life changes, such as losing a loved one, loss of employment or divorce may increase the risk of developing Cyclothymia. And it's estimated that up to 50% of Cyclothymia sufferers may have a substance abuse problem. Preferred treatments for Cyclothymia include mood stabilizers, like Lithium and Depakene, in combination with psychotherapy. Experts advise AVOIDING antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, which may trigger mania. While not as intense as Bipolar Disorder, it's extremely challenging to attempt self-management of Cyclothymia. In fact, experts advise ongoing lifelong treatment to avoid relapse. If you experience recurring symptoms of hypomania and moderate depression, please see your doctor or mental health provider.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012