What Can Cause Rapid Mood Swings?

Medically reviewed by Tim Legg PhD, PMHNP-BC, GNP-BC, CARN-AP, MCHES on July 6, 2016Written by Natalie Silver


It’s common to experience a change in mood occasionally or to go through a short period of feeling elated or blue. If you have serious and frequent mood swings, you should tell your doctor about them. You may have a medical condition if you swing from extremely happy to extremely depressed on a regular basis. Your doctor will discuss reasons for your mood swings. Some causes of rapid changes in behavior can be related to mental health, hormones, substance abuse, or other health conditions.

When to see your doctor

It’s normal to have days where you feel sad or days when you’re overjoyed. As long as your mood changes don’t interfere with your life to an extreme degree, they’re generally considered to be healthy.

If your behavior is unpredictable for a number of days or longer, it may be a sign of something more serious. You may feel grumpy one minute and happy the next. You may have emotions that can cause damage to your life.

For example, you may:

  • be so excitable that you find yourself unable to control urges to spend money, confront people, or engage in other uncontrollable behaviors
  • feel like you want to harm yourself or end your life
  • be unable to visit friends, get enough sleep, go to work, or even get out of bed

Patterns of these types of mood swings may be symptoms of a more serious health condition. You should schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your feelings. They can work with you to determine why you feel this way and what you can do to resolve it.

What conditions are tied to mood swings?

In many cases, mood swings are a symptom of a more serious health issue. They can occur due to mental health conditions, hormonal changes, or substance abuse problems, among other things.

Mental health conditions

Many mental health conditions can cause mood swings. They’re often referred to as mood disorders. They include the following:

  • In bipolar disorder, your emotions range from extremely happy to extremely sad.
  • In cyclothymic disorder, you have emotions that go up and down but are less severe than those associated with bipolar disorder.
  • In major depressive disorder, you feel extremely sad for a long time.
  • In dysthymia, you have a chronic form of depression.
  • In disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, your child has outbursts that aren’t on target with their developmental stage.

You may also experience mood swings if you have other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

According to a 2011 study, children with mood swings are often thought to have bipolar disorder but actually have another condition. Your child’s doctor will be able to evaluate your child and help you determine an appropriate treatment plan.

Hormonal conditions

Hormones can also cause mood swings. This has to do with hormones affecting the chemistry of the brain. Teens, pregnant women, and menopausal women may experience mood swings due to the hormonal changes associated with this phase of their body’s development.

Mood swings could occur due to more than just hormones. If you experience extreme mood swings, talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

Substance abuse

You may experience mood swings if you use drugs or drink alcohol. Substance abuse can lead to addiction, which is a mental health condition. Many programs are available to help treat substance abuse.

You may need to help a loved one with substance abuse because it’s often difficult for the person using drugs or alcohol to break the pattern of addiction alone. Your doctor can provide helpful treatment plans for substance abuse.

Other health conditions

Other health conditions can cause mood swings. This includes conditions affecting your lungs, cardiovascular system, and thyroid. Conditions that affect your central nervous system may also cause mood swings.

Common triggers

Regardless of whether your mood swings occur due to an underlying medical condition or another factor, certain things can trigger them. This includes:

  • stress
  • a significant change in your life
  • your diet
  • your sleep habits
  • medications

If you experience frequent and severe mood swings, consult your doctor. It may be helpful for you to note when you have a mood swing and what you were doing before it happened. This can help your doctor assess whether you were reacting to a lifestyle change or if it’s the result of an underlying issue.

How are mood swings treated?

If you’re experiencing severe mood swings or mood swings that cause extreme disruption in typical behavior, you should consult your doctor. Your doctor can help you determine the causes of your mood swings and help you find appropriate treatment. You may need professional therapy or medications to relieve these life-altering mood swings. Simple lifestyle changes may also help, too.

If you’re ups and downs aren’t affecting other aspects of your life negatively, you may be able to work through your mood swings without medical attention. You may be able to regulate your moods if you do the following:

  • Keep a schedule.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get sufficient sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Engage in calming practices like yoga or meditation.
  • Avoid stress.
  • Find a creative outlet to express yourself.
  • Find someone to talk to, such as a friend, family member, or professional counselor.

Keeping a journal to record your mood swings might help you determine the reasons you experience them. Look for patterns and try to avoid situations or activities that directly impact your mood.

Read more: Five benefits of healthy habits »

The bottom line

Keep in mind that mood swings can vary in severity. Experiencing a range of emotions is a part of life. You may need to adjust your lifestyle to get back to feeling normal if you experience occasional mood swings.

You should take swings that alter your behavior and negatively impact your life or those around you seriously. Contact your doctor if you feel that mood swings have taken over your day-to-day life or if you’ve been feeling out of sorts for an extended period. These could be symptoms of a serious health condition.

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