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Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder


Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and ability to complete day-to-day tasks. Mood swings associated with bipolar disorder range from depressive lows to manic highs, during which a person may exhibit numerous behavioral and psychological symptoms. Today we’re looking into rapid cycling bipolar disorder, another aspect of this condition that those who are bipolar are at high risk of developing. 

What Is Rapid Cycling Bipolar?

Rapid cycling bipolar disorder isn’t another form of bipolar disorder but rather refers to a pattern of frequent, distinct episodes in people with bipolar disorder. In rapid cycling, a person may experience four or more manic or depressive episodes a year. 

Some people with bipolar disorder will alternate between episodes of mania and depression once or twice a year. Others may only experience these episodes once every few years. However, a small number of people with bipolar disorder will experience rapid cycling, in which these mood swings occur faster and more often. 

Rapid mood cycling can occur at any point in the course of a person’s bipolar disorder diagnosis and can come and go over the course of many years, depending on whether they receive treatment. Rapid cycling is not necessarily permanent, nor does it produce an indefinite pattern of episodes. 

Rapid cycling is considered one of the more severe forms of bipolar disorder. It can significantly impact a person’s life and day-to-day function, so those with this condition should receive mental health treatment to learn how to manage their symptoms properly.

Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

In rapid cycling mood disorder, mood swings may occur randomly and unpredictably. These mood swings usually don’t follow any specific pattern. 

In some cases, rapid cycling may occur weekly, monthly, or every few months. This can be very detrimental to the quality of daily life of the individual since it is occurring more frequently. 

What’s more, the symptoms of rapid cycling are no different than those of bipolar disorder. The main difference between rapid cycling and usual bipolar disorder symptoms is the speed at which mood swings alternate. 

The main symptom of rapid cycling bipolar disorder is the unusually frequent transition from mania to depression and back again. With bipolar 1 disorder, manic episodes last at least seven days and are most often severe enough to require hospitalization. 

Additionally, bipolar 1 also causes depressive episodes that last about two weeks. In people with bipolar 2 disorder, the “ups” never reach full-blown mania but are instead less-intense elevated moods referred to as hypomania or hypomanic episodes. 

Rapid cycling, on the other hand, involves having four or more of any kind of mood episode within a year. These mood swings can occur randomly and can last for several days or weeks. Some episodes may be shorter or longer than others. 

Patterns of rapid cycling vary from person to person. Some people with bipolar disorder may start with rapid cycling symptoms, while others may experience it gradually. Either way, this pattern of bipolar disorder can be even more unpredictable and difficult to manage. 

The signs of rapid cycling bipolar are similar to those of bipolar 1 and 2 disorders. Common rapid cycling bipolar disorder symptoms include: 

Manic episodes, which produce symptoms like: 

  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Less need for sleep
  • Racing thoughts and speech
  • Anger and irritability
  • An exaggerated sense of optimism and self-confidence
  • Grandiose thinking (unrealistic sense of superiority over others)

Depressive episodes, which produce symptoms like: 

  • Persistent sadness
  • Crying spells
  • Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep at all
  • Lack of concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • Pessimism and indifference 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm

For someone to be diagnosed with rapid cycling, five or more of these symptoms must be present during the same two-week period and represent a significant change from the person’s previous functioning. At least one of these symptoms must also either be a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. 

What Causes Rapid Cycling in Bipolar Disorder?

Experts aren’t sure what causes bipolar 1 or bipolar 2 rapid cycling. What we do know is that about 12 to 24 percent of people with bipolar disorder develop rapid cycling at some point in their lives. Considering that about 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder, 12 to 24 percent is a big chunk.2

Anyone with bipolar disorder can develop rapid cycling. Research indicates that rapid cycling is more common among women with bipolar disorder than in men, though this isn’t entirely clear.3 

Treatment for Rapid Cycling and Bipolar Disorder

In addition to medication, people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder should also receive psychotherapy to better understand what rapid cycling is and learn how to manage their symptoms properly. Banyan Treatment Centers offers bipolar disorder treatment on inpatient and outpatient levels.

Clients receiving mental health care at our facility will receive counseling in individual and group settings to help them learn how to cope with their conditions while connecting with others who are also recovering from a mental illness. In addition to various mental health therapy programs, our mental health program in Boca also includes family therapy in which loved ones of patients have an opportunity to recover from the impact the individual’s mental disorder has had on them.

Although rapid bipolar cycling adds additional stress to the management of bipolar disorder, recovery is possible with the right kind of help. To learn how our residential mental health program in Boca Raton can help you or a loved one break free from mental illness, call Banyan today at 888-280-4763.

Related Reading:

Dating Someone with Bipolar Disorder
How to Help Someone with Bipolar Disorder

  1. NCBI - Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder: cross-national community study
  2. NAMI - Surveys Reveal Gap in Understanding of Bipolar Disorder
  3. NIH - Gender differences in bipolar disorder
Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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