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Cyclothymic disorder is a mild form of bipolar disorder in which a person has mood swings from mild or moderate depression to euphoria and excitement, but stays connected to reality.

Alternative Names:


Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

The cause of cyclothymic disorder is unknown. Although the changes in mood are irregular and quick, the mood swings are far less severe than in bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness). Unlike in bipolar disorder, periods of hypomania often do not become actual mania.

See also: Bipolar disorder

  • Alternating episodes of hypomania and mild depression lasting for at least 2 years
  • Patients tend to be more irritable or dark, rather than euphoric or happy
  • Persistent symptoms (less than 2 symptom-free months in a row)

Signs and tests:

The person's own description of the behavior usually leads to diagnosis of the disorder.


A combination of antimanic drugs, antidepressants, or psychotherapy are used to treat cyclothymic disorder. Medications used to treat this condition are called mood stabilizers.

  • Lithium. Lithium has been used for years in patients with bipolar disorder, and it may also help patients with cyclothymic disorder.
  • Antiseizure drugs. Valproic acid (Valproate), carbamazepine (Tegretol), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), and lamotrigine (Lamictal) are the most established antiseizure drugs. Other antiseizure drugs used for bipolar disorders include gabapentin (Neurontin), zonisamide (Zonegran), and topiramate (Topamax).

Patients may not respond to medications as strongly as do patients with bipolar disorder.

Support Groups:

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.

Expectations (prognosis):

Most people do not need long-term therapy.

Cyclothymic disorder may lead to full-blown bipolar disorder in some people, or it may continue as a chronic condition.


The condition can progress to bipolar disorder.

Calling your health care provider:

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



McClellan J, Kowatch R, Findling RL; Work Group on Quality Issues. Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007;46:107-125.

Miklowitz DJ, Otto MV, Frank E, et al. Psychosocial treatments for bipolar depression: a 1-year randomized trial from the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64:419-426.

Review Date: 8/24/2008
Reviewed By: Timothy A. Rogge, MD, private practice in Psychiatry, Kirkland, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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