Cyclothymic disorder, also called cyclothymia, is a type of mood disorder where people experience numerous periods of mood "highs" and "lows" that are unrelated to life circumstances. The mood instability - mild elation or mild depression - is related to bipolar disorder (which was formerly known as manic depression) and is in fact considered to be a milder form of bipolar disorder.
Though less severe, cyclothymia can have great impact on a person's life, where unexpected and extreme mood changes disrupt the ability to function normally.
Both men and women are equally likely to suffer from cyclothymia, affecting up to 1% of the population. Cyclothymic disorder generally starts appearing during young adulthood, though it may also first occur at a later age.
The exact causes of cyclothymia are not known, but it is often a result of the same genetic factors that cause bipolar disorder. In fact, there is an estimated 15% to 50% risk that people with cyclothymia will eventually be diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a full-blown manic episode or major depression.
People with cyclothymic disorder usually have a family history of major depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, or alcohol or drug dependence.
Radical changes in mood and behaviour (alternating between highs and lows) are typical signs of cyclothymia.
During a mood "high," the person may feel very optimistic and cheerful and may have an increased drive to reach their goals. Unfortunately, this is often coupled with poor judgment, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes even aggressive behaviour. The "highs" of cyclothymia are similar to those of bipolar disorder but are less severe.
During a mood "low," the person has symptoms similar to depression: feeling sad and hopeless, losing interest in things they used to enjoy, feeling guilty or worthless, having trouble concentrating, thinking of suicide, and having problems with eating or sleeping. The "lows" of cyclothymia are similar to those seen in mild-to-moderate depression.
This continual - and unpredictable - mood cycling often takes its toll on an individual's life, even though altered mood episodes aren't as extreme as with bipolar disorder. Mood changes make it difficult to sustain enthusiasm for new projects or for work. Personal relationships tend to suffer from the "warm-cool" ups and downs of the person's mood. Over time, mood cycling can lead to repeated loss of employment and may become destructive to personal relationships.