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"What is rapid cycling?"


My son has been diagnosed as bipolar. His doctor spoke to me of rapid cycling, but I'm not sure what that is. Could you give me more information?


Bipolar disorder is a chronic, lifelong psychiatric condition characterized by alternating periods of low mood (depression) and high mood (mania). Sometimes people with bipolar disorder will have periods of normal mood between these episodes. However, when a person with bipolar disorder cycles rapidly (more than 4 times per year or so) between mood states, usually without having any intervening normal mood state, this is called rapid cycling bipolar disorder.

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There are a few special considerations that are important with patients with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. It is more common for them to have long stretches of depression and to be misdiagnosed with depression rather than with bipolar disorder. They are also at a higher risk of suicide than people with regular bipolar disorder (probably because of the depression). Other than these considerations, however, the treatment of rapid cycling bipolar disorder is just the same as for patients with regular bipolar disorder and involves taking daily medications to stabilize the mood. As the disorder is chronic and usually lifelong, these medications must be taken consistently and for long periods of time, usually for the rest of patient's life. Your son should talk to his psychiatrist regularly about his condition.

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