What Is Cyclothymic Disorder? - Symptoms, Diagnosis & Definition

Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

Cyclothymic disorder is a type of chronic mental disorder with wildly fluctuating symptoms. Learn about diagnosis and treatment as we explore this disorder, then take a quiz to test your knowledge.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, better known as manic-depressive disorder, is a mood disorder best remembered as a disease of two opposing poles. The north pole represents one emotional extreme, called mania, while the south pole represents the other, depression. There are many variations of bipolar disorder depending on the length and severity of both manic and depressive symptoms. One type of bipolar disorder is known as cyclothymic disorder (more on that in a moment).

Sufferers of bipolar disorder fluctuate between the highs of manic episodes and the lows of depressive episodes. The manic cycles last from days to months while depressive episodes can last even longer and mimic an episode of major depressive disorder.

What is a Manic Episode?

The state of mania, otherwise known as a manic episode, is a state of mental disorder characterized by the following symptoms:

  • extremely high energy or surges of energy
  • pleasure seeking and risk taking behaviors
  • impulsiveness
  • reduced need for sleep
  • rapid thought and speech
  • irritability
  • talkativeness
  • inappropriate elation or euphoria

Often, people who are in a manic state experience an inflated self-esteem that can be delusional. For example, someone who is experiencing an episode of mania could suddenly decide that they wish to run for President, or buy a yacht to sail around the world, even though they have no experience in either area. It is common for sufferers to get into financial and legal problems due to things they do when manic, such as maxing out their credit cards buying that yacht or other inappropriate purchases.

The individual suffering from bipolar disorder may simply be happy to no longer be depressed and not recognize their grandiose thinking. It is difficult to recognize mania in someone that you don't know well. Often, family and friends will notice the flight of ideas and irregular behavior of someone who is manic and seek help.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is recognized by psychiatrists and psychologists by the same pattern of chronic, fluctuating moods, but with symptoms that are not frequent enough or severe enough to be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. People who suffer with cyclothymic disorder still experience both mania and depression, but the 'highs' are not as high and the 'lows' not as low.

The periods of elevated mood experienced by those with cyclothymic disorder are called hypomanic episodes. In medicine, the prefix 'hypo' means below, or less than, so hypo-manic means that it does not quite meet the criterion for an episode of mania.

However, cyclothymic disorder is still a very serious disorder that causes dysfunction in all areas of life. Depressive periods make it very difficult for sufferers to have normal lives. Because the periods of elevated mood experienced significantly increase the efficiency, accomplishments and creativity of some individuals, it often delays them in seeking help. This positive cycle can also cause the person to appear moody, unpredictable and unreliable.

Causes and Diagnosis of Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder affects up to 1% of the population, but it is not yet clear what causes it. Psychologists have recognized that bipolar disorders occur more frequently in people who have relatives with the disease. This means there is a strong genetic component to cyclothymic disorder as well. Also, cyclothymia is taken as a warning sign by psychiatrists as it sometimes develops into full manic-depression.

Although there is no clear cause, a manic or hypomanic episode can be triggered by the following:

  • major life changes (such as childbirth)
  • prescription medications such as antidepressants
  • long periods without sleep
  • recreational drug use

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account