An Overview of Cyclothymia

The Condition Commonly Called Bipolar III

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Cyclothymia, sometimes called cyclothymic disorder, is known as a mild form of bipolar disorder. (Cyclothymia is also sometimes referred to as bipolar III, but this isn't its official diagnostic name.)

It is a long-term condition in which moods cycle between hypomania and depression—but the moods are not incapacitating or suicidal. Hypomania is a "high" that can be mild to fairly severe, but it does not include delusions, hallucinations or other psychotic features.

Cyclothymia is milder than bipolar I or bipolar II in that the depressive and hypomanic episodes are not as intense as those found in the other two disorders. In between the highs and lows, people with cyclothymia may feel pretty normal. However, it's important to get help for this condition since it can significantly impact everyday functioning and affect relationships at home and at work.

Who Gets Cyclothymia?

Cyclothymia usually starts during the teen years or young adulthood and affects both males and females equally. It may be under-diagnosed because people who have it are sometimes erroneously diagnosed with other mental health conditions like depression or bipolar II disorder.

Many people with cyclothymia do not seek treatment because their symptoms are not as debilitating as those seen in bipolar disorder.

Causes of Cyclothymia

The specific causes of cyclothymia are still unclear. Certain factors, including family history, environmental stressors, and brain chemistry seem to play a role in cyclothymia.

Symptoms of Cyclothymia

Cyclothymia has similar symptoms to the other bipolar disorders, but not quite as extreme. It is characterized by emotional highs and lows that can be, but aren't always, disruptive to daily functioning. These emotional highs and lows are called hypomanic and depressive episodes.

Hypomanic Symptoms

In cyclothymia, when you are on an emotional high, you are experiencing a hypomanic episode, which is not as extreme as mania. Hypomanic symptoms occur for at least four days and may include:

  • Becoming distracted easily
  • Being more talkative than normal
  • Displaying poor impulse control and/or judgment, which can lead to risky choices
  • Experiencing irritability or agitation
  • Feeling extremely happy or euphoric
  • Feeling restless
  • Fidgeting, pacing, or becoming more physically active
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Requiring less sleep than normal
  • Thinking very highly of yourself

Depressive Symptoms

In cyclothymia, when you are in a low place, you are probably experiencing a depressive episode, which also tends to not be as extreme as those found in bipolar I and bipolar II. These symptoms may include:

  • Being irritable
  • Crying excessively
  • Experiencing changes in eating habits and/or weight
  • Experiencing little to no pleasure in the things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or hopeless
  • Feeling tired or worn out
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Thinking about death or suicide

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Diagnosis of Cyclothymia

If you have symptoms of cyclothymia, you should see your doctor right away. Depending on your doctor's experience, they may refer you to a mental health professional for a diagnosis if no physical reasons for your symptoms can be found.

Cyclothymia is diagnosed when these factors are present:

  • Your stable moods, which are the times between mood episodes, last for less than two months.
  • You have had both hypomanic and depressive episodes for at least two years (one year for children and teens), and these highs and lows account for at least half of the time.
  • The symptoms you're having don't meet the diagnostic criteria for another illness, such as depression, bipolar I, or bipolar II disorder.
  • These mood episodes are negatively impacting your life and day-to-day functioning.
  • Your symptoms aren't a result of substance use or a physical illness.

Cyclothymia Treatment

It can take time and patience to figure out an effective treatment plan. Treatment may include psychotherapy and/or medications to help keep your symptoms from interfering with your life.

There aren't any medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for cyclothymia, but your doctor may use medications approved for bipolar disorder, like mood stabilizers or antidepressants, to help control your symptoms.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Cyclothymia.

  2. Van Meter AR, Youngstrom EA, Findling RL. Cyclothymic disorder: a critical review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2012;32(4):229-43. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.02.001

  3. Perugi G, Hantouche E, Vannucchi G. Diagnosis and treatment of cyclothymia: the "primacy" of temperamentCurr Neuropharmacol. 2017;15(3):372–379. doi:10.2174/1570159X14666160616120157

  4. Coryell W. Cyclothymic disorder. Merck Manual: Professional Version.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Cyclothymia: management and treatment.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.

  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Cyclothymic disorder.