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Cyclothymia is characterized by numerous mood swings, with periods of hypomanic symptoms that do not meet criteria for a manic episode, alternating with periods of mild or moderate symptoms of depression that do not meet criteria for a major depressive episode. An individual with cyclothymia may feel stable at a baseline level but experience a noticeable shift to an emotional high during subthreshold hypomanic episodes of elation or euphoria, with symptoms similar to those of mania but less severe, and often cycle to emotional lows with moderate depressive symptoms.
To meet the diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia, a person must experience this alternating pattern of emotional highs and lows for a period of at least two years with no more than two consecutive symptom-free months. For children and adolescents, the duration must be at least one year. The diagnosis of cyclothymia is rare compared to other mood disorders. Diagnosis of cyclothymia entails the absence of any major depressive episode, manic episode or mixed episode, which would qualify the individual for diagnosis of other mood disorders.
When a major episode manifests after an initial diagnosis of cyclothymia, the individual may qualify for a diagnosis of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Although the emotional highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme than those of bipolar disorder and generally do not cause the same conditions, the symptomatology, longitudinal course, family history and treatment response of cyclothymia are consistent with bipolar spectrum. Lifetime prevalence of cyclothymic disorder is 0.
Frequency appears similar in men and women, though women more often seek treatment. Cyclothymia is characterized by short cycles of baseline, stable periods of not over two months and numerous swings between depression and hypomania that fail to meet the severity of sustained duration criterion for major affective syndromes for at least two years. Also common are quick temper, poor judgment, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, appetite change, lack of sexual desire, self-neglect, fatigue, insomnia and sleepiness. The exact cause of cyclothymia is unknown.