Cyclothymic disorder

Cyclothymic disorder, also called cyclothymia, is a mild form of bipolar disorder, characterized by alternating episodes of mood swings from mild or moderate depression to hypomania. Hypomania is defined as periods of elevated mood, euphoria, and excitement that do not cause the person to become disconnected from reality.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors 

The cause of cyclothymic disorder is unknown. Although the changes in mood are irregular and abrupt, the severity of the mood swings is far less extreme than that seen with bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness). Unlike in bipolar disorder, periods of hypomania do not progress into actual mania, in which the person may lose control over his or her behavior and go on spending binges, engage in highly risky sexual or drug-taking behavior and become detached from reality.

Hypomanic periods are energizing and a source of productivity for some people, while these periods cause others to become impulsive and unconcerned about the feelings of others, which can damage relationships. Because hypomania feels good, people with cyclothymia may not want to treat it.


  • Alternating episodes of hypomania and mild depression lasting for at least 2 years  
  • Persistent symptoms (less than 2 consecutive symptom-free months)

Signs and tests 
The person’s own description of the behavior usually leads to diagnosis of the disorder.


Cyclothymia is treated similarly to bipolar disorder. A combination of antimanic drugs, antidepressants, or psychotherapy can effectively treat this condition in many cases.

Support Groups 
The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.

Expectations (prognosis) 
People may decline to seek treatment during their cheerful and uninhibited moods. There is likely to be a need for long-term treatment.


There is a potential for eventual progression to bipolar disorder.

Calling your health care provider 
Call a mental health professional if you or your child experiences persistent alternating periods of depression and excitement that negatively affect work or social life.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Mamikon Bozoyan, M.D.

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