What can Cause Severe Mood Swings?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Severe mood swings can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, hormonal changes in the body, and some types of medication. In addition, severe mood swings can also be caused by normal human reaction to day-to-day life. When a person’s life is in a period of severe upheaval, or emotional distress, mood swings are sometimes simply a natural response to the human condition. Changes in mood, even severe ones, are sometimes normal.

Even though there are life experiences that can bring about mood swings, sometimes severe mood swings are the result of chemical imbalances, such as bipolar disorder. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain believed to control mood. One such chemical, called norepinephrine, can cause extreme manic behavior if the levels are too high and severe depression if the levels are too low. Another neurotransmitter called serotonin is believed to be linked to happiness and good mood, and fluctuations of this chemical can cause dramatic changes in state of mind.


Mood swings associated with hormones are commonly seen in women who are going through menopause. Estrogen is a hormone believed to have an impact on how the brain produces serotonin, the “good mood” chemical. Women in the midst of menopause typically have deficiencies in estrogen, which can delay the production of serotonin. This condition is believed to be responsible for many mood swings associated with menopause. Other symptoms of menopause that may contribute to severe mood swings include sleep disorders, weight gain, and diet.

The onset of puberty has long been credited with causing severe mood swings. Unlike menopause, where hormones are diminishing, during puberty, hormones are flooding in, causing reactions in the brain that often lead to unpredictable and moody behavior. This is sometimes more prevalent in girls, as many of them are also dealing with their first experiences with menstruation, which brings with it a completely new set of problems. Some symptoms of severe mood swings in teenagers include inexplicable crying and changes in attitude and behavior, particularly toward authority figures. In addition, some teens alternate between social withdrawal and overachievement.

Another condition called pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) can sometimes cause severe mood swings. Little is known about this condition, but research seems to show that PMS is likely linked to production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Women who suffer PMS frequently experience mood swings so severe that the symptoms interfere with their daily lives.

Treatment for severe mood swings varies, depending on the severity, and the age of the patient. Doctors frequently prescribe antidepressants such as Prozac and Paxil. For women who are going through menopause, sometimes hormone replacement therapy is recommended. This type of therapy is now less common, as it has been linked to cancer.


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