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rapid cycling bipolar

Understanding Rapid Cycling Bipolar

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by alternating bouts of mania, or heightened energy, and depression. Rapid cycling is a pattern of distinct episodes of mania and depression that occur four or more times in one year. It can occur at any point in the course of bipolar disorder, and can persist for a prolonged time without treatment. In observation of World Bipolar Day on March 30, what are the characteristics and symptoms of rapid cycling?

What Is Rapid Cycling?

Anyone can develop bipolar disorder, but you are at higher risk if mental health conditions run in your family. Most people are in their late teens or early 20s when symptoms emerge.

According to the Depression and Bipolar Alliance, rapid cycling can occur in up to half of people living with bipolar disorder. Women and people with bipolar II disorder are more likely to experience periods of rapid cycling. Most people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder spend far more time depressed than manic or hypomanic, which can lead to a misdiagnosis of clinical depression.

While the phrase “rapid cycling” may sound like there is a predictable pattern of mood changes, that’s not the case. The mood swings of rapid-cycling bipolar can happen quickly, over a few hours or days. If you experience four or more changes in one month, you have ultra-rapid cycling.

What Causes Rapid Cycling?

Though there is no single known cause of this condition, several factors can cause or worsen rapid bipolar cycles.


Stress is one of the best-known triggers of the high and low mood swings associated with bipolar disorder. Anticipated or actual stress could accelerate cycling if left unmanaged. While some stress can be positive, chronic stress causes multiple health issues, including high blood pressure, insomnia, heart disease and weight gain. You can keep your stress in check by exercising, meditating and doing yoga.

Irregular Circadian Rhythms

Research suggests that being out of sync with your body’s natural rhythms can cause rapid cycling. Circadian rhythms are the innate 24-hour cycle that regulates your activity and energy levels. For example, they signal you when it is time to get up and go to sleep. An inconsistent sleep schedule may make your bipolar symptoms worse.


Mood-stabilizing drugs can help you manage rapid cycling. However, it may take some trial and error to find a medication regimen that works for you. If a doctor prescribes you an antidepressant that does not relieve your symptoms or makes you feel worse, talk to your health care provider about changing your dosage or switching to a different drug. Do not stop taking medication without consulting with your physician.

Treating Rapid Cycling

Bipolar disorder can cause behavioral changes such as substance abuse, especially during a manic phase. However, drinking and drug use can make the symptoms worse. Though living with the mood changes of bipolar disorder can be challenging, many people have found relief through working with a therapist and keeping a journal of their feelings.

At Vista Taos, we treat co-occurring disorders such as bipolar and substance use with holistic remedies provided along a complete continuum of care. To learn more about how we can help you, reach out to us today.

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