Compared with more serious mood disorders, the mood symptoms of cyclothymia are mild. Depressive symptoms in cyclothymic disorder never reach the criteria for major depression. Elevated mood never reaches the definition for mania.
Cyclothymia can straddle the line between mental illness and normal variations in mood and personality. Some people with mild symptoms are highly successful in life, driven by their hypomania to express individual talents. On the other hand, chronic depression and irritability can ruin marriages and professional relationships.
The depressive symptoms of cyclothymic disorder are typically more frequent, unpleasant, and disabling than the hypomanic symptoms. Feelings of depression or instability are usually what cause people with cyclothymia to seek help.
No medicines are specifically approved for the treatment of cyclothymia, although mood stabilizers such as lithium or lamotrigine are sometimes recommended as a possible strategy to reduce mood fluctuations. Antidepressants such Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft are generally not recommended unless someone develops a full major depression, which, by definition, does not occur in cyclothymic disorder. There is also a small risk that antidepressants could trigger or worsen mania symptoms in a subgroup of vulnerable people. Antidepressants alone also are not known to improve fluctuations in mood, which are hallmark characteristics of cyclothymic disorder.
Technically speaking, when elevated or depressed moods become severe, a person no longer has cyclothymia, but rather has bipolar disorder. This progression to more severe symptoms can happen, and this is when many people first receive treatment.