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Treating Cyclothymia with Medications

written by: Nicholas Kuvaas • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/31/2011

Cyclothymia is a variation of bipolar disorder which usually affects people throughout their lives. Medications can help to relieve problematic symptoms. This article discusses some medications for cyclothymia and how they affect the brain.

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    Why Use Medications for Treating Cyclothymia?

    Cyclothymic disorder is a form of bipolar disorder where the symptoms of mania and depression are considered to be mild in comparison to its counterpart, but it affects a person for their entire life. Treatment of cyclothymia is extremely important because if it is left untreated, there is a high risk that it can become full blown bipolar disorder. Common treatments include psychotherapy and medications.

    There are many medications available, but two typical medications are mood stabilizers and anti-seizure medications. Although, other types of therapeutics and antidepressants might be used in some situations.

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    Mood Stabilizing Medications for Cyclothymic Disorder

    Mood stabilizers are the most common medications for cyclothymia, and they help prevent mood swings between a hypomanic state and depression. The main medication used to accomplish this is lithium which is prescribed under the names of Eskalith and Lithobid. While lithium has been in use for over 50 years, its mechanism is unknown. Only theories exist to explain how it works.

    One theory states that lithium affects the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain which increases the available amount of these neurotransmitters. This in turn, increases neuron activity. Another theory says that lithium affects mood-related signal processing in the brain which is accomplished by inhibiting the action of an enzyme called inosital monophosphatase. Some evidence exists for the first theory, but the evidence is far from conclusive.

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    Anti-seizure Medications for Cyclothymic Disorder

    Anti-seizure medications are also used to treat cyclothymia, and they also prevent mood swings. Common types include valproic acid (brand name Depakene), divalproex sodium (brand name Depakote), and lamotrigine (brand name Lamictal).

    These drugs are often used to treat epilepsy, and they work by calming and relaxing nerves with a secondary benefit of stabilizing moods. These medications for cyclothymia accomplish mood stabilization by affecting the neurotransmitter known as gamma amino butyric acid (GABA).

    If GABA is not produced in an adequate amount, the nerves become over stimulated resulting in erratic behavior. Using these drugs increase the production of GABA which brings over stimulated neurons back to normal levels achieving the desired outcome for those who suffer from cyclothymic mood swings.

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    Other Medication Treatments for Cyclothymia

    There are times when anti-seizure medication doesn't work for people with cyclothymic disorder. In these cases, atypical antipsychotic medications are prescribed which block serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain and decrease neuron activity.

    Two examples of these drugs are risperidone (brand name Risperdol) and olanzapine (brand name Zyprexa). Another drug known as quetiapine (brand name Seroquel) works in a similar manner and appears to be effective in treating cyclothymia. Other medications such as anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants may be used in combination with these drugs to tackle secondary problems related to the mental illness.

    There are many medications which treat the disorder but choosing which ones to take should be a decision made by the patient and their doctor to best address the illness and the possible side effects of the drugs.

    NB: The content of this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cyclothymia/DS00729/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

    Life Enhancement, http://www.life-enhancement.com/article_template.asp?id=952

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