Before you read this fact sheet you may want to read our fact sheet on Bipolar Disorder first.
Rapid cycling is a specific characteristic of bipolar disorder that may occur in as many as half of all people with bipolar disorder. The essential feature of rapid cycling is the occurrence of four or more mood episodes during the previous 12 months. Mood episodes include depression, mania, mixed state or hypomania. These episodes can occur in any combination and order but must be separated by a period of full remission or by a switch to an episode of the opposite polarity. People who experience rapid cycling compare it to a rollercoaster ride, with mood changes that seem uncontrollable.
There are two sub-types of rapid cycling:
People experience rapid cycling in varying patterns. It’s important to learn the signs that signal the approach of an episode in you. Taking control can empower you and decrease feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which often occur in depression. When you take action to reduce stimuli and irritability in your life, you may also decrease the severity of an episode.
“It was sort of unreal and frightening at the same time. I would have these shifts in mood that would catch me off guard, sometimes every day, and I became this person I hardly knew and barely liked. I was so confused and irritable. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my parents.” – Cathy, 19
It can be challenging to find an effective treatment for rapid cycling. Traditional medications (such as lithium) used to treat bipolar disorder are not always effective. Don’t give up, there are different options and combinations that you may need to try before you find the one that works best for you.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to be completely objective about how you are doing. Input from those people who know you well can be helpful. Your friends and family can give support and notify your health practitioner when you are having difficulty. Using a mood tracking diary can be really helpful and an important tool in your recovery. It will provide you and your doctor with a better idea of how your treatment is managing your symptoms. The information obtained from mood tracking is valuable in helping to determine whether your medication and/or therapy has had an effect on your mood. Click here to download a printable copy of Personal Diary – Mood Tracker.
It is important to know that taking antidepressants can trigger manic/rapid cycling episodes in people who have bipolar disorder. If you are seeking treatment, it is very important to discuss any symptoms of mania or any family history of bipolar disorder with your health care practitioner.
For a list of places where you can get treatment and/or find a doctor, click here.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can learn more about your choices and figure out which treatments might be best for you. To learn more click here.