Monday, July 29, 2013

Bipolar Lite — Cyclothymia

I'd never heard of cyclothymia (sigh-klo-THY-mia) until I read a reference to it online. Turns out cyclothymia is similar to bipolar disorder but with less extreme high and low moods (mania or hypomania and depression) that last two months or longer. Cyclothymic lows do not involve suicidal thoughts, and if you are cyclothymic and in a stable period, you are likely to feel normal.

Because cyclothymia may start in childhood and later lead to bipolar disorder, treatment — in the form of medication and talk therapy — should, ideally, come sooner rather than later and continue throughout life. If you or your friends and family notice your mood swings, periodic excessive activities, unrealistic projects, and bleak bouts of sadness, it may be time to consult a doctor (instead of being offended by the suggestion or slipping into denial).

Cyclothymia symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people may successfully accomplish a lot during a high, while others may have unrealistic expectations. Some may respond to challenges unusually well during a high period while others fall apart.

Drugs prescribed for cyclothymia are sometimes the same ones used to treat bipolar disorder. Along with drugs, psychotherapy can diminish cyclothymic symptoms in both severity and frequency and may help to prevent alcohol abuse, which can lead to mood swings similar to those of cyclothymia. 
It is crucial to be honest with your doctor about how much you drink and any recreational drugs you use.

In addition, keep in your wallet a list of the drugs you take so that whenever a medical professional needs to know, you are ready and won't risk negative drug interactions. Because some drugs used to treat cyclothymia can harm a fetus, cyclothymic women who want to become pregnant should first ask their doctor to adjust their meds. 

Bipolar people are, increasingly, talking and writing about their disorder. But if you tell someone you are cyclothymic, you may be greeted with a blank stare or a frown, because it is a less common disorder, receives less press, and may be misdiagnosed more often than bipolar disorder.

Actor Stephen Fry has been quoted as saying he is bipolar but also as saying he is cyclothymic. Distinguishing between the two is not always a slam dunk, but given that he has attempted suicide, a well educated guess is that he is bipolar.

Cyclothymic moodiness and unpredictability can lead to divorce. On the other hand, if you are cyclothymic, appropriate psychiatric treatment and medication can help you stay on an even keel.