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About Cyclothymia

Cyclothymia is characterized by mood swings between the lows of depression and the highs of hypomania, or feeling euphoric, energized, and driven (see symptom list below). The mood swings are not extreme enough, nor do they last long enough, to qualify for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In a nutshell, cyclothymia may be thought of as a mild form of bipolar disorder.

Cyclothymia tends to be a chronic condition, with symptoms of depression and hypomania lasting an entire lifetime. The American Psychiatric Association (2000) estimates that cyclothymia affects 0.4 to 1 percent of the population, which translates to between 1.2 million and nearly 3 million Americans. This condition often begins early in life, usually in adolescence or early adulthood, and it affects men and women almost equally.

Symptoms of Depression Symptoms of Hypomania
  • Low energy or motivation; accomplishing tasks is an effort
  • Sleeping too much or too little; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Problems with concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite; marked weight loss or gain
  • Feeling slowed down or agitated
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Elevated, overly gregarious, or irritable mood
  • Increased self-esteem, grandiosity
  • Reduced need for sleep, feeling rested with only a few hours of sleep
  • Increased talkativeness, feeling pressure to keep talking
  • Racing thoughts, continuous stream of ideas that may be fragmentary
  • Being easily distracted
  • Increase in activity that is goal-directed
  • Being overly involved in pleasurable activities that are potentially risky or could have painful consequences

The figure below illustrates the differences between cyclothymia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. On the left side, you see mood episodes listed. Euthymic mood is a clinical term for what you might think of as "normal" mood, or the absence of extremes in mood. Although both cyclothymia and bipolar disorder have mood swings between highs and lows, the bipolar mood swings are more extreme.

Cyclothymia diagram

If you have cyclothymia, you may already know that a mood of one extreme or the other can last as long as several hours, days, or even weeks. Commonly, though, cycling from one mood to the next happens rather suddenly and irregularly, with periods of "normal" or even mood being rare.

As with other mood disorders, there appears to be some hereditary influence. It is common for those with cyclothymia to have first-degree relatives (parents, children, or siblings) who have struggled with cyclothymia, major depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder.

The Cyclothymia Workbook provides a more in-depth discussion of the nature of cyclothymic disorder. It can also help you determine whether you may have it, what causes it, and what you can do about it. See the Table of Contents or the home page for more information about the workbook.

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Paperback: 190 pages
ISBN: 157224383X

This page was last updated on August 1, 2004
Copyright 2004-2005 Prentiss Price, Ph.D.,

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