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What is Cyclothymic Disorder?

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  • Written By: Lindsay Kahl
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2018
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Cyclothymic disorder, also called cyclothymia, is a mood disorder featuring chronic emotional ups and downs. People with the disorder cycle between two extremes in mood and behavior, but may have periods of time in between with mood stability. In order to meet the criteria for cyclothymic disorder, the mood swings must have been occurring for at least two years, and the symptoms cannot be severe enough to qualify as bipolar disorder.

This disorder is characterized by periods of hypomania and periods of depressive symptoms. Hypomania is a milder, less disabling level of mania. A few symptoms of hypomania include inflated self-esteem, a persistent good mood, irritability, rapid speech, poor judgment, less need for sleep, racing thoughts, and difficulty concentrating. Often, people who experience hypomania report feeling a mild euphoria and extensive amounts of energy and creativity. Because of this, individuals with cyclothymic disorder and the people close to them may not realize that anything is wrong.

After a hypomanic phase, a person with cyclothymic disorder may then experience an episode featuring depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms may include sadness, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, guilt, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities one usually enjoys. While these periods are not as severe as major depressive episodes, they can still be extremely disruptive, and even dangerous, if the individual has suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

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Cyclothymic disorder typically begins during young adulthood and is considered to be chronic, which means it may continue indefinitely. For some people, it may persist throughout their lives, or even develop into more severe bipolar disorder. It is not clear what exactly causes the disorder, but, like most mental illnesses, it may result from a combination of genetics, biochemistry, and environmental stressors.

Various treatments are available to possibly reduce the frequency and severity of mood swings. Treatments for cyclothymic disorder include medication and psychotherapy, and many individuals use a combination of the two. The most commonly prescribed medication for the disorder is a mood stabilizer, such as lithium. Some doctors may prescribe anti-seizure drugs, which are sometimes used to prevent mood swings.

Psychotherapy can help individuals get a better understanding of the disorder and find healthy ways of dealing with it. One method is cognitive behavioral therapy where the focus is to identify negative beliefs and behaviors, and replace them with more functional, positive ones. Some people may also benefit from family, marital, or group therapy.

It is crucial to seek medical treatment if an individual thinks he or she may be suffering from cyclothymic disorder. Left untreated, it could result in severe consequences such as substance abuse issues, legal or financial problems due to risky behavior during hypomanic episodes, relationship problems, and increased risk of developing bipolar disorder. Most importantly, like with many mental illnesses, there is the risk of suicide.

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