Cyclothymia vs Dysthymia – Differences


Cyclothymic disorder, also referred to as cyclothymia, is a relatively mild form of bipolar disorder that is described by mood swings which may appear to be almost within the normal range of emotions.

It affects up to 1% of the population.


Patients with cyclothymia typically experience several weeks of low-level depression followed by an episode of mild mania which lasts around 1 week.

The manic symptoms of the disorder may include:

  • impulsive or reckless behavior;
  • extremely high self-esteem;
  • hypersexuality;
  • excessive talking or speaking very quickly, occasionally so fast others have trouble following what the sufferer is saying;
  • argumentative;
  • racing thoughts;
  • going for days with little or no sleep;
  • increased anxiety;
  • hyperactivity and restlessness;
  • lack of focus.

Depressive symptoms of the disorder may include:

  • unexplained physical symptoms;
  • irritability;
  • lack of concentration, inattentiveness, or forgetfulness;
  • aggressiveness;
  • feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt;
  • low sexual function and desire;
  • low energy or fatigue;
  • weight gain or loss;
  • changes in appetite;
  • hypersomnia (sleeping too much) or insomnia.

Notessymptoms typically start in adolescence or young adulthood.

During the lows, you feel mildly depressed. During the highs, the mood elevates for a time before returning to its baseline. In between the depressed and elevated moods, the patient is likely to feel like himself.


Possible complications include:

  • an anxiety disorder;
  • substance abuse;
  • there is a high risk of developing bipolar I or II disorder;
  • substantial emotional problems that affect every aspect of the sufferer’s life.


The disorder may result from a combination of:

  • environment, like – prolonged periods of stress or traumatic experiences;
  • differences in the way the brain works, like – changes in the brain’s neurobiology;
  • heredity, as the disorder tends to run in families.
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The disorder is diagnosed when the following factors are present:

  • the symptoms are not a result of a physical illness or substance abuse;
  • the mood episodes are negatively impacting the day-to-day functioning of the patient;
  • the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic criteria for another illness, like – bipolar I, depression, or bipolar II disorder;
  • the patient had both depressive and hypomanic episodes for at least 24 months (12 months for children and adolescents), and these lows and highs account for at least 12 months;
  • the stable moods, that are the times between mood episodes, last for less than 60 days.


It is essential to get help for the disorder as it can notably impact the everyday functioning as well as it affects the patient’s relationships at work and at home.

Treatment aims to:

  • stop the symptoms from coming back;
  • reduce the symptoms;
  • stop the disorder from developing into bipolar disorder.

Common treatments include:

  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy – is a specific type of psychotherapy developed to help people with bipolar disorder; it involves a focus on the stabilization of daily rhythms, particularly related to wake, sleep, and mealtimes;
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – it is a specific type of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy that teaches distress tolerance, awareness, and emotional regulation;
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – it is a short-term psychotherapy treatment that focuses on changing negative beliefs and thoughts into positive ones.

Note – no medications are approved by the US FDA specifically for the disorder, however, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications which are used to treat bipolar disorder, such as:

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Dysthymia, also known as a dysthymic disorder or persistent depressive disorder, is classified as a type of affective disorder which resembles a less severe, yet more chronic type of major depression.

It consists of at least 2 years of chronic mild unhappiness that causes significant disability or distress.

An estimated 1.5% of the population over the age of 12 in the US struggles with persistent depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.


The symptoms of dysthymia are listed below:

  • worries and guilt about the past;
  • pessimistic or negativity outlook;
  • reduced quality of life;
  • lack of interest in daily routine;
  • reduced productivity;
  • insufficient sleep or oversleeping;
  • reduced self-esteem;
  • avoids socializing;
  • excessive irritability or anger;
  • feelings of sadness;
  • increased or reduced appetite;
  • inability to concentrate or focus;
  • becoming tired easily;
  • inability to make decisions;
  • weight gain.

Note – in children, the disorder occasionally occurs along with:


Complications that persistent depressive disorder may cause include:

  • suicidal behavior;
  • reduced quality of life;
  • eating disorders;
  • major depression;
  • anxiety;
  • substance abuse;
  • decreased productivity;
  • family conflicts and relationship difficulties;
  • school and work problems;
  • social isolation.


The exact cause of the persistent depressive disorder is unclear, but, there are some recognized risk factors, such as:

  • previous history of mental health disorders;
  • physical differences in the brains of such individuals which are yet to be precisely pinpointed;
  • personality traits of the person – pessimistic, low self-esteem, anxious, and timid;
  • an alteration in neurotransmitters signaling;
  • environmental factors, like loss of a parent, emotional stress, financial difficulties, or abuse;
  • traits of the persistent depressive disorder tend to be observed in different generations in affected families.
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Treatment may include:

  • family therapy;
  • psychotherapy;
  • antidepressant medications.

Bottom Line – Cyclothymia vs Dysthymia

Cyclothymic disorder is a mild form of bipolar disorder, in which an individual has mood swings over a period of several years which go from emotional highs to mild depression.

This disorder causes emotional ups and downs, however, they are not as extreme as those in bipolar I or II disorder. Though less severe, it can have a notable impact on a sufferer’s life, where extreme mood changes disrupt the capacity to function healthfully.

Dysthymia is a form of depression that is less severe than major depression, however, it typically lasts longer. It may cause you to develop low self-esteem, lose interest in almost everything, and become incapable of living happily.

A key difference between cyclothymia and dysthymia is that a person with cyclothymia experiences emotional ups and downs with periods when she may feel stable and fine, whereas a person with dysthymia experiences ups and downs in mood, however, lower moods dominate and are persistent.