8 Symptoms Of Cyclothymic Disorder And When To Seek Help

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.6% of the adult population in the United States has bipolar disorder. There are different types of bipolar disorder, such as cyclothymic disorder.  Understanding what it is and identifying symptoms will help determine if it is necessary to seek help.  Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by extreme mood swings that range from mania to depression.

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What is a Bipolar Episode?

While most people experience changes in mood that are temporary and that do not affect daily life, people with bipolar disorder experience more dramatic changes. These changes, also called episodes, are classified as manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes.

The patterns of highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder vary among individuals diagnosed with it. While many people have heard of bipolar disorder, most are unaware that there are different types of the disorder and that each person may experience the severity of symptoms differently.

Mania (or Manic Episode)

Manic stages are characterized by periods of being very energetic and talkative, appearing restless, and present with a period of euphoria. During this stage of bipolar disorder episodes, some people may participate in risky behavior, such as using alcohol or illicit drugs, or engaging in sexual promiscuity. Disruptions in professional and personal relationships and roles are not uncommon during manic episodes.

Hypomania

Hypomanic episodes have symptoms like those of mania. However, the symptoms are not as severe and usually do not cause critical issues in one’s personal or professional lives. Symptoms of hypomania typically last for most of the day for at least four days.

Depressive Episodes

The depressive stage of bipolar disorder is characterized by feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue. An affected individual may have trouble concentrating, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and experience irritability.

How Many Types of Bipolar Disorder Are There?

There are several types of bipolar disorder and each type involves episodes of depression and mania to a certain degree.

  • Bipolar I disorder involves periods of severe mood episodes that cycle from mania to depression.
  • Bipolar II disorder involves milder episodes of hypomania that alternates with periods of severe depression.
  • Rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder referred to as a more severe version of bipolar disorder. Individuals who experience this form of bipolar disorder are characterized as having at least four mania episodes, hypomania, or major depression within twelve months. People who experience a bipolar episode at a young age and women are potentially more likely to develop rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
  • Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic is another severe form of bipolar disorder. Mood episodes associated with this type of bipolar disorder may include delusions or hallucinations. These symptoms are features of psychosis, a severe mental health disorder in which thoughts and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.
  • Mixed Features refers to the presence of several symptoms of both manic, hypomanic and depressive episodes. Many people experience high energy, insomnia, and racing thoughts, but at the same time may feel irritable or hopeless.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder is known as cyclothymia, is a form of bipolar disorder that is characterized by distinct episodes of hypomania and depressive symptoms.

 Cyclothymic Disorder Symptoms

One thing that makes cyclothymic disorder different from other bipolar disorders is that symptoms last over a period of at least two years. Although the mood changes are not as severe enough to meet the criteria for a hypomanic or depressive episode, they are generally present at least 50 percent of the time. Additionally, lapses between episodes usually occur no more than two months apart.

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A person with cyclothymic disorder will experience hypomanic episodes, but never full manic episodes. In fact, rather than being bothersome, some people report feeling increased productivity and the ability to focus better when working on tasks. Unfortunately, without proper treatment, symptoms can worsen. Therefore, it is important to seek help as soon as symptoms are evident, even if they don’t appear to be disruptive to daily life or obligations.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a compressive publication of officially-recognized psychiatric disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. It is used by mental health professionals to help promote uniformity in the diagnosis of mental health disorders. The DSM records mental health disorders’ signs and symptoms so that mental health care providers know which criteria to observe for when making a diagnosis. Cyclothymic disorder manifests with hypomania episodes and depressive episodes, and each has specific symptoms.

Hypomania Episodes of Cyclothymic Disorder Include the Following Symptoms:

  • Grandiose personality. Grandiosity refers to a person’s unrealistic sense of superiority. It is characterized by viewing oneself as better than others, viewing others as inferior, or believing that he/she has traits that are unique only to the affected person.
  • Distractibility, inability to concentrate on one subject. Despite attempts to carry on a conversation or complete a task, when episodes of hypomania occur, the affected individual often feels like it is impossible to “stay on track.” He/she may begin several projects but not complete any of them.
  • Excessive involvement in risky behavior. Risky behaviors have a high potential for negative consequences. Examples include going on spending sprees, being sexually promiscuous, having an extra-marital affair, or experimenting with recreational drugs.
  • Distinct changes in mood or behavior that are observable by others. These mood changes often involve a “powerful personality” or attention-seeking behavior, an unusually high elevation in mood, and a lack of empathy toward others.

 Depressive Episodes of Cyclothymic Disorder Include:

  • Having a significant change in appetite and/or weight. A person’s appetite can be affected differently by mood. Some people eat very little or not at all while others do binge-eating. This can result in rapid weight loss or gain. These changes are not characteristic of someone’s regular shift in mood. It is very extreme in one way or the other and is usually noticed by others easily.
  • Severe fatigue or lack of energy. The fatigue associated with depressive episodes usually occurs suddenly and may leave the individual feeling like he/she doesn’t have the energy to accomplish simple tasks, such as bathing or putting on makeup.
  • Having trouble with memory, concentration, or decision-making. During a depressive episode, lapses in memory may occur. Concentration may appear fragmented, and tasks that would otherwise be simple feel overwhelming.
  • Having thoughts about or contemplating suicide. When hopelessness or sadness becomes overwhelming, some people become preoccupied with death. Some may think about or attempt suicide. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or behaviors, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline offers confidential and free emotional support to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Treatment of Cyclothymia

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Cyclothymia symptoms are not as pronounced as those of “classic” bipolar disorder; it often goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated. Many people are not concerned with the hypomania symptoms, but the depressive symptoms of cyclothymic disorder are unpleasant and frequent. They can be more disabling than hypomanic symptoms, as well. The feelings of instability or depression are usually what cause most people with cyclothymic disorder to seek help.

Currently, no medication is explicitly approved for the treatment of cyclothymia disorder. However, a primary care provider or mental health professional may prescribe certain medications to manage the symptoms associated with the disorder.

Cyclothymic disorder can cause significant disruptions in the personal lives of people with the disorder. In addition to possible medication management, psychotherapy (talk therapy) is usually recommended. Psychotherapy is a term used to describe a variety of treatment techniques that help individuals learn to identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Seeking Help for Cyclothymic Disorder

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyclothymic disorder symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care provider for a consultation. He/she can perform a physical exam and assessment and provide you with a referral to a mental health care provider. Mental health providers are trained to understand mental health disorders, such as cyclothymia, and the episodes of hypomania and depression that are associated with it.

Mental health services are available using several different resources and platforms. For example, many towns have local mental health clinics and/or private counseling centers. Additionally, if you are not yet comfortable with meeting personally with a counselor or therapist, there are several resources for online counseling services that may be helpful.

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BetterHelp is one example of online mental health services.  BetterHelp has a team of professional, licensed counselors, social workers, and doctors that will work with you to develop a care plan that focuses on your individual needs. If you have a phone or have internet access, you have the tools you need to get started today.

Having a mental health issue associated with bipolar disorder, such as cyclothymic disorder, does not mean that you cannot find stability and enjoy life to its fullest. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, reach out today and begin your journey to wellness.


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