What Is Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, And How Do I Deal With It?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated April 1, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Have Questions About Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder?

Rapid cycling bipolar disorder is not a long-term mental illness. Anyone with bipolar disorder can enter a period of rapid cycling, although some indicators and risk factors make it more likely for some than others. The important thing to remember is that rapid cycling will not last forever, and you can cope with it while it is happening.

There are a lot of things to understand about rapid cycling bipolar. To begin, you need to understand what bipolar disorder is, and what rapid cycling bipolar is. Understanding the risk factors and what may cause rapid cycling may be able to help you prevent it from being unbearable. Further understanding of how to cope with rapid cycling bipolar disorder both with the help of your doctors and at home can help you get through this trying time.

Characteristics Of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that is characterized by both highs, called mania, and lows referred to as depression. There are two different types of bipolar disorder, and they have different characteristics. Rapid cycling bipolar can occur with both type one and type two.

Bipolar Type 1

Bipolar type 1 is the most easily diagnosed form of bipolar disorder because it is characterized by episodes of mania as well as episodes of depression. Less than half of the people with bipolar disorder have type 1 bipolar. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1 is usually made during an episode of mania so severe that it leads to hospitalization.

Bipolar Type 2

In bipolar disorder type 2, the highs that are experienced never reach the heights of mania that are experienced with bipolar type 1. There are still episodes of highs and lows, but they often suffer more from episodes of depression. The highs usually never go beyond hypomania, which is a very mild mania that does not usually lead to hospitalization.

Characteristics Of Rapid Cycling Bipolar

Rapid cycling bipolar is when there are four or more episodes in a one-year period. Episodes could be mania or depression, or a combination of the two. Typically, rapid cycling bipolar is characterized by dramatic swings from high to low repeatedly with little time in between of "normal" mood.

Rapid cycling bipolar in bipolar type 1 patients may be episodes of extreme mania, deep depression, or both. Rapid cycling bipolar in bipolar type 2 patients may present more like episodes of deep depression. People in rapid cycling bipolar are at higher risk of suicide and hospitalization.

Rapid cycling bipolar can be extremely difficult to deal with. You may feel euphoric one day and in the depths of depression the next. The rapid rollercoaster that you find yourself on during rapid cycling bipolar can be emotionally and physically exhausting for you and those around you. It often makes coping with society, work and school, extremely difficult if not impossible.

Who Is At Risk For Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder

Research studies have been done to try to identify what makes someone at risk of developing rapid cycling bipolar. They have found that rapid cycling is more likely to occur when the diagnosis of bipolar is made at or around the age of 17 or younger. Studies have also found that people with bipolar type 2 and women are more likely to develop rapid cycling bipolar.

There have been some theories that antidepressant use in bipolar patients kicks off a period of rapid cycling. However, these theories have not born fruit in research studies. More research is needed to determine if this is a possibility. However, it is usually recommended that bipolar patients do not take antidepressants, as they are often not helpful compared to the risks.

Resolution Of Rapid Cycling Bipolar

Rapid cycling bipolar usually resolves with treatment within about two years for most patients. The diagnosis of bipolar 1 or bipolar 2 is permanent mental illnesses with no cure or resolution for most patients. However, the rapid cycling bipolar that you may experience will not last throughout your lifetime.

Have Questions About Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder?

Sometimes understanding that rapid cycling bipolar is, in effect, temporary can help you cope with it more effectively. Studies have found that 4 out of 5 patients with rapid cycling bipolar resolve within two years. Those are very good odds. You more than likely will come out of the period of rapid cycling eventually, and knowing that there is an end to the rollercoaster, even if it seems far in the future, can help you cope with it more effectively.

Coping With Rapid Cycling Bipolar

There are many ways to cope with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. It is extremely important to see a psychiatrist and therapist frequently during rapid cycling bipolar. Medication adjustments may be frequent in the attempt to manage symptoms. Also, psychotherapy can help you recognize and cope with the mood swings that come with rapid cycling bipolar.

There are also some things you can do to cope at home. It is important to have people around you that you trust to help you cope with your illness. This is especially important for people with bipolar two rapid cycling because the major depressive episodes can be dangerous and make you more at risk for suicide.

Medication Therapy

It has long been accepted within the psychiatric community that anticonvulsants are the best treatment for bipolar disorder, especially rapid cycling bipolar. Studies have found that the most promising medications for rapid cycling bipolar are lithium, lamotrigine, carbamazepine, and valproate. Typically, a combination of these medications works better than just one medication by itself.

One of the important things to remember about these medications is that they can take weeks or even months to build up and become effective. Many people with rapid cycling bipolar tend to give up on treatment because it doesn't seem to be working. It is important that you give the ample medication time to work for you. If you take a medication for several weeks or months and you still have no relief, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Work with your doctor to determine the best medication regimen for you and your symptoms.


Psychotherapy is an important part of your treatment and coping with rapid cycling bipolar. Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based therapy can help you recognize symptoms and make adjustments to your thinking and behavior to compensate for the mood changes. While you may not be able to control your mood swings during rapid cycling bipolar, with the help of a therapist you may be able to exert some control over your reaction to them.

Psychotherapy is also important during rapid cycling to make sure that you are completely safe. Being open and honest with your therapist about how you have been feeling, thinking and behaving is extremely important. In severe cases, patients do have to be hospitalized during rapid cycling bipolar for their safety. Your therapist cannot determine whether or not this is necessary unless you are honest with them about what is going on.

At Home

Of course, you only get limited time with your therapist, and you will need to be able to cope somewhat on your own at home. There are a lot of things you can do to try to cope with rapid cycling bipolar. One of the most important things you can do is any homework, exercises, or coping mechanisms that your therapist gives you during your appointments.

You can also take some measures to ensure your safety and well being during episodes. It is best if you can surround yourself with people that you can trust who can help make sure that you are doing okay. If you have manic episodes that result in spending sprees that you can't afford, consider giving your bank and credit cards to a trusted friend or family member to hold onto for you, and have them shop with you to keep you from going overboard.

If you live alone and have depressive episodes such as with rapid cycling, you might consider having a circle of friends or family make routine visits. The company will help you feel better and keep you from feeling too lonely, while they can also help to negate the risk of suicide attempts.

The most important thing you can do when coping with rapid cycling bipolar is to be aware and mindful of your mood, your thoughts, and your behavior. If you can recognize that you are entering an episode, you can take steps to make sure that you are safe and protected. Keeping a mood journal can be extremely helpful in learning how to recognize your symptoms and cope with episodes as they arise.

Getting Help

If you have rapid cycling bipolar, you should seek treatment if you have not done so already. Even if you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for some time and are on medication treatment, when you are in rapid cycling, seeing a therapist regularly. It is best if you can see a therapist at least once every week or two weeks, especially while you are in an episode.

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