Cyclothymia: What is It, Symptoms, & Treatment

Cyclothemia is a mood disorder that

affects about .4%-1% of the population.

Cyclothymia, also known as cyclothymia disorder, is a rare mood disorder characterized by emotional ups and downs that are less severe than those seen in bipolar I or II disorder. Individuals with cyclothymia experience noticeable shifts in mood from their baseline, alternating between periods of feeling elated and times when they feel somewhat down.

 Although the mood swings in cyclothymia are not as extreme as in bipolar disorder, it is always advisable to seek help in managing these symptoms to prevent potential interference with daily functioning and reduce the risk of developing bipolar I or II disorder. Treating cyclothymia typically includes a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy), medication, and regular follow-up with a healthcare provider.

This guide to living with cyclothymia highlights the following issues:


  • Is there a cyclothymia test?
  • What are the most effective cyclothymia therapies?
  • Cyclothymia vs bipolar: what’s the difference?
  • Are there cyclothymia medications available?
  • What is the best cyclothymia medication?
  • How can you access cyclothymia treatments in Southern California?
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What is Cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia, also known as cyclothymic disorder, is a milder manifestation of bipolar disorder. Individuals with cyclothymia undergo frequent mood swings, experiencing both hypomanic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar disorder, a lifelong mood disorder and mental health condition, entails intense fluctuations in mood, energy levels, thinking patterns, and behavior. These shifts can persist for varying durations, ranging from days to weeks or even months, significantly disrupting the individual’s ability to carry out daily activities.

In the case of cyclothymia, the person experiences cycles of hypomania and mild depression for a minimum of two years. These mood changes can arise rapidly and at any time, making them unpredictable. Although there might be brief periods of normal mood (euthymia), they typically last for fewer than eight weeks in individuals with cyclothymia.

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Symptoms of Cyclothymia

Cyclothymia encompass both emotional highs and lows, with the highs presenting as hypomanic symptoms and the lows involving mild to moderate depressive symptoms. These mood shifts, while similar to bipolar I or II disorder, are generally less severe. Individuals with cyclothymia can typically maintain their daily functioning, although the unpredictability of their mood swings may significantly disrupt their lives.

When encountering symptoms of cyclothymia, seek medical help promptly as the condition rarely improves on its own. Additionally, provide support and assistance to loved ones dealing with cyclothymia-related concerns. In the case of suicidal thoughts, immediate contact with emergency services or a mental health provider is essential, especially for those at risk of bipolar I or II disorder. 

Click the tabs below to view distinctive characteristics of hypomanic and depressive symptoms:

Hypomanic Symptoms
  • Experiencing an exaggerated feeling of happiness or well-being (euphoria)
  • Displaying extreme optimism
  • Demonstrating inflated self-esteem
  • Talking excessively
  • Exercising poor judgment leading to risky behavior or unwise choices
  • Racing thoughts
  • Exhibiting irritable or agitated behavior
  • Engaging in excessive physical activity
  • Feeling an increased drive to perform or achieve goals (sexual, work-related, or social)
  • Experiencing a decreased need for sleep
  • Having a tendency to be easily distracted
  • Struggling with concentration and focus


Depressive Symptoms
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or empty
  • Experiencing tearfulness
  • Displaying irritability, especially in children and teenagers
  • Losing interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Undergoing changes in weight
  • Dealing with feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Experiencing sleep problems
  • Feeling restless
  • Experiencing fatigue or feeling slowed down
  • Having difficulties concentrating
  • Thinking of death or suicide


How is Cyclothymia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing cyclothymia involves a comprehensive evaluation by a doctor or mental health care provider to distinguish it from other mood disorders like bipolar I or II disorder and depression. The diagnostic process includes the following steps:

  1. Physical exam and lab tests
  2. Psychological evaluation
  3. Mood charting
  4. Diagnostic criteria evaluation


Click the tabs below to learn more:

Physical exam and lab tests

To identify any underlying medical conditions that could be causing the symptoms, a physical exam and lab tests may be conducted.

Psychological evaluation

A doctor or mental health provider will engage in discussions with the individual regarding their thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns. They may also request the completion of a psychological self-assessment or questionnaire. In some cases, information from family members or close friends may be sought to gain insights into possible hypomanic or depressive symptoms.

Mood charting

Keeping a daily record of moods, sleep patterns, and other relevant factors can aid in the diagnosis and help find the appropriate treatment for the condition.

Diagnostic criteria evaluation

The diagnosis of cyclothymia aligns with specific criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, revised fifth edition). Cyclothymia DSM 5 symptoms include experiencing numerous periods of elevated mood (hypomanic symptoms) and depressive symptoms for at least two years (one year for children and teenagers), with these mood swings occurring for at least half of that time. Stable moods typically last less than two months, and the symptoms significantly impact important areas of life, such as social interactions, work, or school. Beyond this, the symptoms should not meet the criteria for bipolar disorder, major depression, or another mental disorder, and they should not be caused by substance use or a medical condition.

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If you have been feeling any of these symptoms, and you are in need of help, please give our friendly team a call.

How is Cyclothymia Treated?

The main treatment modalities for cyclothymia include medications and psychotherapy. While no specific medications are approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for cyclothymia, doctors may prescribe mood stabilizers commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. These medications can help manage cyclothymia symptoms and prevent hypomanic and depressive episodes. Antidepressants may also be prescribed to address low moods, but caution is needed as they can induce hypomanic states.

 Talk therapy, clinically described as psychotherapy, plays a central role in cyclothymia treatment and can be conducted in individual, family, or group settings. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a common approach used to identify and modify negative beliefs and behaviors, manage stress, and develop coping strategies. IPSRT (interpersonal and social rhythm therapy) may focus on stabilizing daily routines to manage mood fluctuations.

 In addition to professional treatment, self-care steps can complement the overall treatment plan. Adherence to prescribed medications is crucial even if feeling well, as discontinuing them can lead to the recurrence of cyclothymia symptoms.

Identifying warning signs and triggers can aid in managing cyclothymia more effectively. Beyond this, it is beneficial for individuals with cyclothymia to seek support from healthcare providers and consider joining support groups to share experiences and seek further guidance on managing the condition.

Primary Goals of Cyclothymia Treatment

Cyclothymia requires ongoing treatment, even during periods of remission when the person feels better. The primary goals of treatment are to:

  • Decrease the risk of developing bipolar I or II disorder: Cyclothymia carries a significant risk of evolving into bipolar disorder, so the treatment focuses on minimizing this progression.
  • Reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms: By managing the symptoms effectively, individuals with cyclothymia can lead a more balanced and enjoyable life.
  • Prevent symptom relapse: Continuation of treatment during periods of remission (maintenance treatment) can help prevent the return of symptoms.
  • Address substance use problems: Treating any co-occurring alcohol or substance use issues is crucial, as they can inflame cyclothymia symptoms.

Cyclothymia FAQ

What is the difference between cyclothymia and bipolar?

Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, causes mood changes from feeling low to emotional highs. While cyclothymia has similarities to bipolar disorder, its symptoms are milder, with mood swings being less severe and broken up by periods of normal mood. Bipolar I and II disorders involve more intense and prolonged manic and depressive episodes than cyclothymia.

What is the difference between cyclothymia and ADHD?

Cyclothymia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are different conditions. Cyclothymia involves mood swings, with periods of hypomania and depression, while ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The two disorders have distinct diagnostic criteria and require different approaches to treatment.

What is the best medication for cyclothymia?

The treatment for cyclothymia usually involves a combination of mood stabilizers like lithium, anti-epileptic drug, and antidepressants. That said, not all individuals with cyclothymia respond to medication, and psychotherapies like CBT may also be beneficial in managing symptoms.

What is it like to have cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia causes emotional ups and downs, with periods of elevated mood (hypomania) and mild to moderate depressive symptoms. People with cyclothymia may experience shifts between feeling on top of the world and somewhat down, and these mood changes can disrupt daily life and relationships. Seeking help and early intervention can help prevent the condition from progressing to more severe bipolar disorders.

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Get Treatment for Cyclothymia at Connections Mental Health

At Connections Mental Health in Southern California, we offer personalized and compassionate cyclothymia treatment. Take advantage of a committed team of experts and a serene, welcoming environment to start improving your mental health while building solid connections for the future.

All our treatments are science-based and grounded in the most recent psychiatric science. With 24/7 supervision and at least two members of staff present at all times, your safety and well-being are prioritized while ensuring that the setting feels homely and inviting rather than clinical and impersonal. Alongside evidence-based interventions, we also offer a full suite of holistic therapies, enabling whole-body healing in the tranquility of Southern California. 

Call Connections Mental Health today at (844) 413-0009 to discover more about our treatment plans and start your journey to whole-body healing in Southern California with personalized cyclothymia therapy.

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