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Cyclothymic Disorder

By William Coryell, MD, George Winokur Professor of Psychiatry, Carver College of Medicine at University of Iowa

In cyclothymic disorder, relatively mild and short episodes of elation (hypomania) alternate with mild and short episodes of sadness (depression).

Cyclothymic disorder resembles bipolar disorder but is less severe. The episodes of elation and sadness are less intense, typically last for only a few days, and recur fairly often at irregular intervals. This disorder may develop into bipolar disorder or may continue as extreme moodiness.

Having cyclothymic disorder may contribute to success in business, leadership, achievement, and artistic creativity. However, it may also result in uneven work and school records, frequent change of residence, repeated romantic breakups or marital failure, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Doctors diagnose cyclothymic disorder based on the distinctive pattern of symptoms.


  • Education and support

  • Sometimes drugs that stabilize mood

People need to learn how to live with the extremes of their temperamental inclinations. However, living with cyclothymic disorder is not easy because interpersonal relationships are often stormy. Getting a job with flexible hours or, for people with artistic inclinations, pursuing a career in the arts may make it easier.

A drug that stabilizes mood (such as lithium or an anticonvulsant) may be used if cyclothymic disorder makes functioning difficult. People may tolerate the anticonvulsant divalproex better than lithium. Antidepressants are not used unless depression is severe and has lasted a long time because they can cause rapid switching from one mood to the other (rapid cycling).

Support groups (such as the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance—see DBSA) can help by providing a forum to share commons experiences and feelings.