What is Cyclothymia?

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Note: This information is out of date, and is shown here for informational purposes only. For current information, see Cyclothymia/Cyclothymic Disorder - New Definition.

Answer: Cyclothymia is a form of bipolar disorder that most people haven't heard of. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder - also called (incorrectly) cyclothymia disorder and bipolar cyclothymia - is "a chronic, fluctuating mood disturbance involving numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms and numerous periods of depressive symptoms." Simply translated, this means cyclothymia is a long-term condition where the person's moods cycle between hypomania - a "high" that can be mild to fairly severe but does not include delusions, hallucinations or other psychotic features - and depression, also mild to fairly severe but not incapacitating or suicidal.

Here's what goes into a diagnosis of cyclothymia:

  • All the criteria are met for a hypomanic episode
  • Symptoms do not qualify as manic or major depressive episodes
  • Symptoms never ease up for more than two months
  • There hasn't been a manic, mixed or major depressive episode in the first two years of symptoms
  • Another disorder is not responsible for symptoms
  • Symptoms are not caused by a drug or general medical condition

Cyclothymia is not a "mild" form of bipolar disorder. Symptoms of severe hypomania can cause serious problems, and severe depression, even if not incapacitating, can make the life a person with cyclothymia very difficult.​

See Change Proposed for Definition and Diagnosing of Cyclothymia for an important update.

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