Bipolar III Disorder is Actually Cyclothymia

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment for Cyclothymia

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Bipolar III disorder is the unofficial term for cyclothymia, a mild form of bipolar disorder, pronounced SY-klo-THIGH-mee-uh.

What is Cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia, sometimes called cyclothymic disorder, is a long-term condition where your moods cycle between hypomania and depression, but they are not incapacitating or suicidal. Hypomania is a "high" that can be mild to fairly severe, but does not include delusions, hallucinations or other psychotic features.


Cyclothymia is milder than bipolar I or bipolar II in that the depressive and hypomanic episodes are not as intense as those found in the other two disorders. In between the highs and lows, you may feel pretty normal. However, it's important to get help for cyclothymia since it can significantly impact your everyday functioning and raise your risk for developing bipolar I or bipolar II.

Who Gets Cyclothymia/Bipolar III Disorder?

Cyclothymia may be underdiagnosed because people who have it may have been misdiagnosed with depression or another illness or may not have sought treatment at all. However, it usually starts during the teen years or young adulthood and affects both males and females equally.

Causes of Cyclothymia/Bipolar III Disorder

As with every other mental health disorder, no one knows what causes cyclothymia. Certain factors, including family history, environmental stressors and brain chemistry.

seem to have an effect on developing cyclothymia.

Symptoms of Cyclothymia/Bipolar III Disorder

Cyclothymia has similar symptoms to the other bipolar disorders, but not quite as extreme. It is characterized by emotional highs and lows that can be, but aren't always, disruptive to daily functioning. These emotional highs and lows are called hypomanic and depressive episodes.

Hypomanic Symptoms

In cyclothymia, when you are on an emotional high, you are experiencing a hypomanic episode, which is not as extreme as mania. Hypomanic symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling restless
  • Feeling extremely happy or euphoric
  • Not needing as much sleep as normal
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Becoming more physically active, which may include fidgeting or pacing
  • Thinking very highly of yourself
  • Poor impulse control and/or judgment, which can lead to risky choices
  • Being more talkative than normal
  • Becoming distracted easily

Depressive Symptoms

In cyclothymia, when you are in a low place, you are probably experiencing a depressive episode, which also tends not to be as extreme as those found in bipolar I and bipolar II. These symptoms may include:

  • Isolation
  • Not experiencing pleasure in the things you used to enjoy
  • Excessive crying
  • Changes in eating habits and/or weight
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or hopeless
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired or worn out

How Cyclothymia is Diagnosed

If you have symptoms of cyclothymia, you should see your doctor right away. Depending on your doctor's experience, she may refer you to a mental health professional for a diagnosis if no physical reasons for your symptoms can be found.

Cyclothymia is diagnosed when these factors are present:

  • Your stable moods, which are the times between mood episodes, last for less than two months.
  • You have had both hypomanic and depressive episodes for at least two years (one year for kids and teens), and these highs and lows account for at least half of the time.
  • The symptoms you're having don't meet the diagnostic criteria for another illness, such as depression, bipolar I or bipolar II.
  • These mood episodes are negatively impacting your life and day-to-day functioning.
  • Your symptoms aren't a result of substance abuse or a physical illness.

Treatment for Cyclothymia/Bipolar III

An effective treatment plan can take time and patience in order to figure out the best combination for you. Treatment may include psychotherapy and/or medications to help keep your symptoms from interfering with your life.

There aren't any medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for cyclothymia, but your doctor may use medications approved for bipolar disorder, like mood stabilizes or antidepressants, to help control your symptoms.


"Cyclothymia." Mayo Clinic (2015).

"Cyclothymic disorder." Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine (2014).

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