What is Cyclothymia (Cyclothymic Disorder)?

Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder) is a mild mood disorder that causes emotional ups and downs. When doctors give a cyclothymia definition, they usually mention mood fluctuations, depression, and hypomania.

Patients with cyclothymia experience short periods of depression and mania that rarely reach full expression. Although cyclothymia is compared to bipolar disorder, individuals with cyclothymia often experience milder symptoms.


There are two types of cyclothymia symptoms. The two types are hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms.

Hypomanic symptoms:

  • Extreme happiness
  • Excessive optimism
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Impaired judgement
  • Speaking faster
  • Speaking more often
  • Agitated behavior
  • Nonstop physical activity
  • Intense motivation for goal achievement
  • Reduced sleep
  • Feeling distracted
  • Difficulty focusing

Depressive symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling worthless
  • Guilt
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling empty
  • Tearfulness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in weight
  • Restlessness
  • Concentration problems
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling sad


There are no specific cyclothymia causes. However, doctors believe the onset of cyclothymia involves the following three factors.


  • Heredity—Individuals with cyclothymia often come from families with a history of the condition.
  • Brain function—Changes in the neurobiology of the brain might play a role in the development of the disease.
  • Environment—Exposure to ongoing stress and trauma can place individuals at greater risk for the condition.


Cyclothymia is diagnosed through a physical exam, blood test, and psychological assessment. The bloodwork explores a person’s potential for substance abuse and other diseases. A psychiatrist will likely base their cyclothymia diagnosis on the criteria in the latest version of the DSM. DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The psychological assessment is sometimes referred to as a cyclothymia test.

According to the DSM-5, an adult is diagnosed with cyclothymia when:

  • A person has experienced symptoms a minimum of 50 percent of the time for 2 years or longer. The criteria is one year or longer for children.
  • A person has not been symptom-free for more than a 2-month period.
  • Symptoms are not caused by substance abuse or any other medical condition.
  • Symptoms severely impair daily functioning, but do not meet the criteria for bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.

Treatment & Recovery

There are two forms of treatment for the disease: psychotherapy and cyclothymia medication.


Psychotherapy treatment for cyclothymia usually involves cognitive behavioral therapy or well-being therapy.

Psychotherapy treatments:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—This therapy helps you uncover and replace unhealthy beliefs and behaviors with healthier beliefs and behaviors.
  • Well-Being Therapy—This therapy concentrates broadly on improving your life satisfaction and quality rather than treating individual symptoms.


Common types of medication for treating cyclothymia include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure medications

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