While the exact causes of cyclothymia are unknown, certain life events may trigger cyclothymia if you’re predisposed to this condition.

It’s impossible to predict who will experience a mental health disorder during their lifetime. Even when you share the exact same circumstances with someone, your mental health outcomes can vastly differ.

Like other mental health disorders, cyclothymia doesn’t have a singular cause, and not everyone experiencing a known cyclothymia trigger will develop cyclothymia.

Cyclothymia, also known as cyclothymic disorder, is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) as a bipolar disorder.

It features periods of elevated mood that resemble symptoms of hypomania intermixed with periods of low energy and depressed mood.

Cyclothymia’s mood episodes are distinct, but unlike bipolar I and II disorders, the mood episodes aren’t severe enough or long enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for hypomania or major depression.

If your symptoms reach the clinical level of mania, hypomania, or major depression, you’re no longer living with cyclothymia. The diagnosis changes to bipolar I or II disorder.

Cyclothymia symptoms

A cyclothymia diagnosis centers on the experience of mood and energy shifts. These episodes can have the same features as those in bipolar I or II disorder but are milder overall.

An episode with hypomanic symptoms can include:

  • increased energy levels
  • decreased need for sleep
  • rapid speech
  • distractibility
  • restlessness
  • impulsivity
  • irritability
  • racing thoughts
  • inflated self-esteem or grandiosity

An episode with depressive symptoms in cyclothymia can include:

  • feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • loss of interest or enjoyment in activities
  • sleep disturbances
  • weight changes
  • difficulty concentrating
  • low self-esteem
  • unwarranted feelings of guilt
  • agitation or slowed movements
  • indecisiveness
  • fatigue

For a cyclothymia diagnosis, symptoms must be present for at least 2 years in adults or 1 year in children. Mood episodes must occur at least half of the time, with no more than 2 months without symptoms.

If you‘re predisposed to cyclothymia, certain environmental triggers, like stress and substance use disorder, may cause clinical symptoms.

Some researchers believe cyclothymia is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder, with cyclothymic traits emerging during childhood and adolescence. Under this theory, your “cyclothymic temperament” can evolve into a clinical presentation of cyclothymia during situations of extreme stress, such as:

Regardless of the theory behind it, however, adverse life events are recognized as potential cyclothymia triggers.

Does trauma cause cyclothymia?

Trauma causes a state of psychological and physical overwhelm. It’s a circumstance beyond what you’re prepared to cope with and is a situation of extreme stress.

Studies show that trauma has a link and can be a potential trigger for many different mental health disorders, including bipolar disorders.

A selective 2020 review reports that people living with bipolar disorder are 2.63 times more likely to report childhood trauma compared with people not living with bipolar disorder.

That doesn’t mean trauma causes cyclothymia or other bipolar disorders. Trauma may trigger cyclothymia if you’re predisposed to the condition.

However, it’s important to remember that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop cyclothymia.

Cyclothymia is currently an understudied bipolar disorder, but it appears to share the same risk factors seen in bipolar disorders I and II.

These include:

  • having a first-degree relative living with bipolar disorder
  • genetic variants
  • prenatal viral infections
  • childhood maltreatment
  • experiences of extreme psychological stress
  • substance misuse
  • presence of certain comorbid conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Cyclothymia episodes tend to be shorter than full periods of mania or major depression.

Hypomania symptoms only need to last 4 days in a row, compared to a full week in mania. Cyclothymia depressive episodes can be shorter than 2 weeks, which defines a major depressive episode.

However, duration is only one factor that sets cyclothymia symptoms apart from other bipolar disorders.

Cyclothymia symptoms are also milder, and your doctor will take into account the number of symptoms you’re experiencing in addition to their duration. For example, you may enter a depressive episode for 2 weeks but only have 2 or 3 mild symptoms compared with the 5 necessary to meet the major depression criteria.

Like other bipolar disorders, a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and psychoeducation help treat cyclothymia.

While there are no approved medications in the United States for treating cyclothymia, mood stabilizers like lithium help balance high and low energy shifts. Your doctor may also prescribe an antipsychotic, depending on your symptoms.

Unlike for major depression, antidepressants aren’t typical in cyclothymia treatment because they may worsen symptoms.

In addition to medication, treatment plans often employ cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you identify and improve negative thought patterns in cyclothymia.

Learning more about bipolar disorders and cyclothymia through psychoeducation can help you recognize symptoms as they emerge and can help reinforce the importance of sticking to treatment schedules.

Cyclothymia is a mental health disorder also known as cyclothymic disorder. It’s a type of bipolar disorder that features mild energy shifts and symptoms of elevated and depressed mood.

The exact underlying causes of cyclothymia aren’t well understood, but stress and substance misuse appear to be potential triggers of cyclothymia for certain people.

Psychotherapy, medication, and learning more about this condition can help improve your quality of life with cyclothymia.