Rapid Cycling


Back in 2005, when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was also diagnosed with having “rapid cycling” bipolar. Since finding my med cocktail that really appears to be working, I don’t cycle near as often as I used to. Rapid cycling means cycling between moods (depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed) at least four times in a year. Rapid cycling can come and go during the course of the illness. So that means, even though I’m relatively stable right now, I could at any point begin to cycle again. Another criteria for rapid cycling is that the bipolar episodes must be separated by a period of two months of recovery, or be followed by an episode of the opposite polarity.

When cycling is even more frequent, moods shifting during weeks or days, it is known as ultra-rapid cycling. And when mood shifts occur less than 24 hours apart it is called ultra-radian cycling. Rapid mood swings are exhausting and can make you feel completely out of control. As your energy level and mood shifts, you can experience severe irritability, anger, impulsivity, frustration, and emotional difficulties – on top of the regular symptoms associated with the mood episode.

10-20% of people with bipolar disorder also suffer from rapid cycling. And rapid cycling appears to be more prevalent in women than men. Because of the frequent shifts, the symptoms are more difficult to control. Treatment is important and reduces the risk of serious depression and suicide. Treatment usually includes a mood stabilizer such as lithium. Caution needs to be taken when using anti-depressants. They can sometimes trigger rapid cycling. When cycling, it is important to try to stabilize your sleep habits, avoid non-prescribed drugs and alcohol, and adhere carefully to your doctor’s treatment plan. It is helpful to keep a record of which medications have worked or not worked. All this can help reduce the impact that rapid cycling has on you.

                                                            (Sources: WebMD, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario)

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