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What is Cyclothymia?

Brief periods of depression are a component of cyclothymia.
A doctor can prescribe medication and deliver psychological therapy for cyclothymia if necessary.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Cyclothymia is a mood disorder that is on the low end of the spectrum of more aggressive disorders of mood like Bipolar I and II. Cyclothymia is characterized by short periods of mild depression and hypomania. In many cases, hypomania manifests as feeling particularly good or elated, so it may be merely thought of as being in a “good” mood. These cycles may then be followed by several months of “normal” mood.

Many who have cyclothymia do not seek treatment since periods of depression and hypomania are short. Yet some are disturbed by these mild swings and will seek treatment from a mental health professional. If at any time during mood swings a patient becomes actually manic, rather than hypomanic, the condition is rediagnosed as bipolar disorder. As well, if period of depression exists for longer than two months, either a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or major depression may be given.

Some people find cyclothymia a livable condition, and when the condition does not progress to more severe symptoms, it can be managed with cognitive behavioral therapy. For others, destabilization of mood occurs so frequently that people will seek medication. People may take low dose mood stabilizers, and occasionally an antidepressant to help address persistent cycling.

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There is clearly a genetic link in cyclothymia, though the actual genes that may affect mood have not been identified. However, twin studies show a high rate of the condition being present in both twins, even when the twins are fraternal. This does suggest that cyclothymia can be inherited from either one or both parents.

Cyclothymia may be present in early adulthood, or even earlier. However, it is harder to diagnose in adolescence because adolescent moods tend to already be destabilized by hormonal flux. However, people may look back at childhood and notice patterns of activity and non-activity, which might suggest early cyclothymia.

Some people with cyclothymia will progress to Bipolar I or II, but many never do. It is unclear what factors indicate such progression. It is possible that exterior factors like trauma or post-traumatic stress might push a person with cyclothymia into a Bipolar II state.

Incidence of occurrence tends to be similar in both men and women. Women are more likely to request treatment. About 1% of the population may be subject to cyclothymia. This fact alone is an interesting one, since most know a person or two who could be characterized as “moody.” It is possible, given tolerance for a person thought of as moody, that cyclothymia occurs at a greater rate than is currently diagnosed.

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