Have you been experiencing mood changes and difficult emotions recently? You may be suffering from a common mood disorder known as cyclothymia. While relatively mild, cyclothymia can affect a person’s quality of life and ability to sustain meaningful relationships. To ensure patients receive adequate treatment, it is vital to understand the symptoms of cyclothymia and differentiate it from similar mood disorders. Below, you will find a helpful guide about this underdiagnosed mental health issue and associated mood disorder types.
Mood disorders affect a person’s emotional state and can induce unusual feelings that may not align with a person’s circumstances. These mood swings can affect a person’s ability to work, socialize, or even look after themselves. They may include depressive or manic episodes. Depression broadly involves sadness, numbness, or irritability, while mania relates to excessive happiness or impulsivity. The most common mood disorder types include:
- Bipolar disorder: Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder involves alternating and often unpredictable swings between mania and depression.
- Major depressive disorder: This condition involves persistent and prolonged feelings of extreme melancholy.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: This mood disorder only causes issues in the days preceding the onset of menstruation and is characterized by extreme irritability and mood changes. These symptoms are more severe than the common premenstrual symptoms many women experience.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD is a form of depression that takes hold during winter in far northern and southern latitudes when daylight hours are limited.
- Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: This condition affects children, and includes symptoms such as frequent tantrums and chronic irritability.
- Substance-induced depression: Chronic substance abuse and addiction can cause depressive symptoms, particularly during periods of withdrawal.
- Cyclothymic disorder: Also known as cyclothymia, this common condition is characterized by emotional highs and lows less extreme than those experienced by people with bipolar disorder.
What is cyclothymia?
Cyclothymia causes a person to experience periods of excessive happiness and sadness in ways that may not align with their personal circumstances. While similar to bipolar, the symptoms are less extreme and therefore less noticeable. The fact that symptoms are relatively mild means many people with this mood disorder do not seek help. While some people with cyclothymia enjoy the brief emotional highs, many find that unpredictable mood swings can disrupt their work and damage their relationships with others. If you suspect you may have cyclothymia, therefore, you must reach out to a medical professional for diagnosis. It is also worth noting that people with cyclothymia are at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder than the general population. Fortunately, early intervention can prevent more problematic symptoms from developing.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can develop cyclothymia at any age. However, it is more common in women.
What are the causes?
It is not known what causes cyclothymia. However, studies suggest genetics may play a role, as bipolar disorder, depression, and cyclothymia tend to run in families. Some people develop cyclothymia following traumatic life events or experiences such as prolonged stress, grief, or severe physical illness.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of cyclothymia can differ from person to person. Broadly speaking, people with the disorder experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Periods of low mood that do not classify as clinical depression (i.e., they are not prolonged or severe)
- Sluggishness and lack of motivation
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Frequent mood swings (i.e., at least one period of extremely low or high mood every two months)
- Hypomania (feeling full of energy)
While these symptoms can profoundly affect a person’s quality of life, they will be broken up by periods of balanced mood and not be severe enough to significantly impact a person’s functionality.
How is cyclothymia diagnosed?
To establish a diagnosis of cyclothymia, a psychiatrist or mental health provider will examine the patient’s health history and conduct a thorough psychiatric evaluation. During this evaluation, they will rule out more serious mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
How is cyclothymia treated?
Typically, patients diagnosed with this type of mood disorder will undergo psychotherapy while taking prescription medications to stabilize their mood. Common mood stabilizers include lithium and anti-epileptic medication such as sodium valproate, carbamazepine, and oxcarbazepine.
The aim of psychotherapeutic treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy is to alter the patient’s distorted view of themselves, improve their ability to maintain relationships with others, and help them to identify environmental stressors that may exacerbate the symptoms of cyclothymia.
Some patients may also choose to undergo family or relationship therapies with their loved ones to deal with the emotional, physical, and financial effects cyclothymia can have on others.
Can cyclothymia be cured?
There is no known cure for cyclothymia. However, some patients may find that their symptoms clear up following therapy. Cyclothymia treatment aims to reduce the severity of symptoms, prevent the onset of bipolar disorder, and prevent symptoms from returning. People who experience cyclothymia once are likely to experience further episodes if left untreated, so most patients continue to engage in some form of treatment for the rest of their lives.
Think you have cyclothymia? Here’s what to do…
The prospect of being diagnosed with a mood disorder is scary and upsetting for many people. However, diagnosis is the first step toward receiving treatment that could positively impact your life and help you to regain a sense of self. Here are a few steps to follow if you believe you may have cyclothymia:
- Book an appointment with a trusted healthcare provider.
- Keep a diary of symptoms in the runup to your appointment – this could help your doctor make a diagnosis.
- Write down a list of worries or questions.
- Bring a trusted loved one to the appointment for emotional support.
- If a diagnosis is confirmed, explore your treatment options thoroughly.
- If you need a follow-up appointment, note down the date and time.
- Reach out to mental health organizations or online communities to help you deal with your diagnosis.