How Rapidly Can Bipolar Mood Swings Occur?

Everyone experiences changes in mood as a part of their normal, daily life, but individuals with bipolar disorder experience drastic mood changes that negatively affect their overall wellbeing. Bipolar disorder is usually characterized by a combination of depressive and manic episodes.

When an individual is in a state of mania, he may feel energetic and euphoric, as if he is on top of the world. However, during a depressive episode, an individual may feel sad, hopeless, and lethargic, lacking the energy or the willpower to participate in his typical activities.

In order to understand how rapidly bipolar mood swings can occur, it is helpful to first know more about the two main types of bipolar disorder and the mood cycles that often accompany these disorders. According to WebMD, Bipolar I and II have the following characteristics:

  • Bipolar I – To be diagnosed with Bipolar I, an individual must experience at least one manic episode. Individuals with Bipolar I may also have hypomanic or depressive episodes that occur either before or after manic episodes. For those who suffer from Bipolar I, manic episodes are far more severe than other mood cycles and often cause significant distress. Mania associated with Bipolar I can lead to hospitalization, psychosis, or both. Symptoms of manic episodes often include the following: increased physical and mental energy, excessive self-confidence, irritability, aggression, lessened need for sleep, sense of self-importance, and reckless behavior.
  • Bipolar II – Individuals with Bipolar II do not experience manic episodes. To be diagnosed with Bipolar II, a person must have suffered at least one depressive episode that lasted two weeks or more, and one hypomanic episode that lasted at least four days. Hypomanic episodes are a less severe form of manic episodes. For those who suffer from Bipolar II, depressive episodes are the most disruptive of the mood cycles and can interfere with daily life. Even though hypomania causes noticeable behavior changes, hypomanic episodes do not typically lead to significant distress. During hypomanic episodes, individuals can usually continue to function at a high level at work and within their social relationships. Symptoms of hypomania are similar to symptoms of mania but not as severe.

The number and frequency of bipolar episodes vary from individual to individual. Most people who suffer from bipolar disorder go through one or two mood cycles within a year and experience manic episodes in the spring or fall, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). However, for some individuals, bipolar mood swings can occur more frequently.

Experiencing more than four mood episodes within a year is known as rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Rapid cycling bipolar is not considered a specific medical diagnosis, however. Rather, it is a way to describe the course of an individual’s bipolar disorder, according to WebMD. Rapid cycling can occur at any time and may come and go throughout the individual’s life.

What Is it Like to Have Rapid Cycling Bipolar?

DBSA describes how rapid cycling is not uncommon among bipolar individuals, with as many as half of all bipolar individuals developing rapid cycling within their lifetime. While it may be more common in women, men can experience rapid cycling as well.

There are many ways that a person can experience rapid cycling bipolar disorders. While four mood swings a year are considered rapid cycling, mood swings can occur far more frequently. Four mood swings within a month are known as ultra-rapid cycling, and several mood swings within a week or even within a day are known as ultra-ultra-rapid or ultaradian cycling.

Rapid cycling causes a person to feel as if he is on a roller coaster. The extreme nature and speed of these mood and energy changes can become debilitating. Oftentimes, rapid cycling does not follow a pattern, but rather the mood swings occur at random, causing an individual to feel completely out of control. In most cases, rapid cycling is temporary, and the mood swings eventually become longer and less frequent.

With the help of treatment, mood swings can be completely stabilized. Treatment for bipolar typically includes talk therapy and medications. Treatment can help any person with bipolar manage her illness. Individuals with bipolar never need to feel ashamed of their condition or afraid to seek help; the disorder is not their fault, and the illness is often highly treatable.