Eight Symptoms Of Cyclothymic Disorder And When To Seek Help

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Cyclothymic disorder, also called cyclothymia, is a rare mood disorder characterized by hypomanic and depressive symptoms (emotional highs and lows). While the symptoms of cyclothymic disorder do not meet the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, cyclothymic disorder is considered a sub-type of bipolar disorder. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.6% of the adult population in the United States has bipolar disorder, and an even smaller percentage of individuals are diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder. As a result, it is possible to live with cyclothymic disorder and be unaware of its impacts or potential consequences. Understanding what cyclothymic disorder is and identifying its symptoms may help you determine if it is to your benefit to seek help.  

Want to learn effective ways to manage cyclothymic disorder?

What is a bipolar episode?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by extreme mood swings that range from mania to depression. While most people can experience emotional ups and downs that are temporary and that do not affect daily life, people with bipolar disorder experience more dramatic changes. These changes, also called episodes, are typically classified as manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes.


Manic stages are generally characterized by periods of being very energetic and talkative, appearing restless, and presenting 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 substances, engaging in unprotected sex, and more. Disruptions in professional and personal relationships and roles are not uncommon during manic episodes.


Hypomanic episodes have symptoms like those of mania. However, the symptoms are usually not as severe and often 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 and experience irritability, changes in appetite, and poor sleep patterns, among other symptoms. 

How many types of bipolar disorder are there?

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

  • Bipolar I disorder may involve periods of severe mood episodes that cycle from mania to depression.

  • Bipolar II disorder may involve milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.

  • Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is often referred to as a more severe version of bipolar disorder. Individuals who experience this form of bipolar disorder typically experience at least four episodes of mania, 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 symptoms 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 refer 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, also known as cyclothymia, is a form of bipolar disorder that can be characterized by distinct episodes of hypomania and mild depression.

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.

Overall, a person with cyclothymic disorder will likely experience hypomanic episodes, but manic episodes typically do not occur. In fact, rather than being bothersome, some people report feeling increased productivity and focus as a result of their symptoms. People with cyclothymic disorder may not seek treatment, because their symptoms may not seem severe. However, without proper treatment, cyclothymic disorder may progress to bipolar disorder. If you believe that you’re experiencing symptoms of cyclothymic disorder, seek medical help.


Eight common symptoms of cyclothymic disorder

Hypomanic episodes of cyclothymic disorder may include:

  • Grandiose personality. Grandiosity refers to having an unrealistic sense of superiority or inflated self-esteem. It may be characterized by viewing oneself as better than others, viewing others as inferior, or believing that one has traits that are unique only to the affected person.

  • Distractibility, the 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 finds it is impossible to “stay on track.” They may begin several projects but not complete any of them.

  • Excessive involvement in risky behavior. Risky behaviors may have a high potential for negative consequences. Examples include going on spending sprees, having an extra-marital affair, or experimenting with recreational drugs.

  • Distinct changes in mood or behavior that are observable by others. These mood changes (possibly seen as emotional reactivity or emotional instability) 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 may 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 may engage in binge-eating. This can result in rapid weight loss or gain. In many cases, appetite changes can be extreme in one way or the other and are usually noticeable to others.

  • Severe fatigue or lack of energy. The fatigue associated with depressive episodes usually occurs suddenly and may leave the individual feeling like they don’t have the energy to accomplish even simple tasks, such as bathing or drinking enough water each day.

  • 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 might feel overwhelming.

  • Having thoughts about or contemplating suicide. When feelings of numbness or sadness take a stronghold, some people with cyclothymic disorder may begin to have thoughts of or attempt self-harm. If you or someone you know needs immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline offers classified and free emotional support to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Causes of cyclothymic disorder

The causes of cyclothymic disorder are unknown. However, as with many mental health conditions, cyclothymic disorder may be the result of multiple risk factors, including:

  • Having a family member who has been diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder or bipolar disorder

  • Traumatic events such as neglect or abuse

  • Substance use or misuse

  • Severe illness or long periods of stress

Treatment of cyclothymia

Currently, no medication is explicitly approved to treat cycoclythmic disorder. However, a primary care provider or mental health professional may prescribe certain medications, such as a mood stabilizer, to manage the symptoms associated with the disorder. 

Cyclothymia symptoms are not as pronounced as those of “classic” bipolar disorder; it often goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated. This may be especially true because many people who experience hypomanic symptoms don’t view them as disruptive, even though they may still lead to consequences. More often, depressive symptoms are what motivates a person to get help, though they still may not realize that what they’re experiencing is cyclothymic disorder rather than another mental illness.

In addition to possible medication management, a treatment plan for cyclothymic disorder may involve psychotherapy (talk therapy). 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. Your primary care physician may refer you to a mental health provider who can diagnose cyclothymia and help create the right treatment plan for you. Cyclothymic disorder has symptoms with other mental health conditions and mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder, and therefore is believed to be underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will perform a physical exam, lab work to rule out a medical condition, and a mental health evaluation.

In addition to speaking with your doctor, it may be a good idea to reach out to a licensed therapist who can help you begin pursuing psychotherapy that makes sense for your needs. If you are not yet comfortable meeting personally with a counselor or therapist, online counseling services are available to help. By meeting with a therapist online, you can get help at a time and place that works for you.

Not only is online therapy convenient, but it’s also capable of significantly improving various mental health symptoms. In fact, one recent review of 17 studies on the effectiveness of online cognitive behavioral therapy found that it could be just as effective as in-person treatment in terms of treating mental health symptoms, specifically those related to depression. The same review also discovered that online therapy was a more cost-effective option for clients, which can make it easier to pursue treatment consistently and with minimal stress. 

Want to learn effective ways to manage cyclothymic disorder?


Cyclothymic disorder, a type of bipolar disorder, can produce symptoms that may be tricky to detect but can be potentially harmful to your mental health, nonetheless. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, it may be time to reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional so you can receive the treatment you may need.
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