Bipolar III disorder is a type of bipolar disorder, which affects a person’s emotional state. Doctors consider this to be the least severe type of bipolar disorder. Treatment typically includes a combination of medication and therapy.

Bipolar III disorder, also known as cyclothymic disorder, is a condition affecting a person’s mood and energy. A person with any type of bipolar disorder may experience extreme emotional states.

Bipolar disorders affect approximately 2.6% of the adult population in the United States each year.

In this article, we examine bipolar III disorder in closer detail. We look at what it is and its symptoms. We also discuss its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

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Bipolar III disorder, or cyclothymic disorder, is a milder form of bipolar disorder. A person has bipolar III disorder when they experience frequent hypomanic and less severe depressive symptoms.

According to research, these symptoms are generally not severe enough for doctors to classify them as bipolar I or II or a major depressive disorder.

Hypomania is when a person experiences less severe mania symptoms.

Read about hypomania here.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of bipolar III disorder include many periods of hypomanic and depressive experiences that do not meet the criteria for hypomanic and depressive episodes over the course of 2 years.

During this 2-year period, symptoms must last for at least half this time and not stop for more than 2 months.

An episode is known as hypomanic when a person experiences less severe symptoms of a manic episode that do not last as long as a full manic episode.

The symptoms that doctors associate with a manic episode include:

  • feeling extremely elated or extremely irritable
  • feeling jumpy, wired, and more active than usual
  • a decreased need for sleep and able to do more without feeling tired
  • speaking quickly about different topics
  • racing thoughts
  • an increased appetite, sex drive, or need for other pleasurable activities
  • feeling unusually important or powerful

A person experiencing a hypomanic episode will typically have less severe versions of these symptoms.

Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • feeling extremely low, sad, or anxious
  • feeling slowed down or restless
  • sleeping difficulties and disturbances
  • speaking slower, difficulty finding what to say, or losing train of thought
  • concentration difficulties
  • difficulty making decisions
  • feeling unable to complete simple tasks
  • lack of interest in usual activities
  • feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • thoughts of death or suicide

A person with bipolar III disorder will generally experience less severe instances of these symptoms.

The causes of any type of bipolar disorder are unclear. However, the American Psychiatric Association believes it may occur when there is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance says there are some risk factors for developing bipolar disorder. These include:

  • having a family member with the condition, other mood disorders, or mental health conditions
  • having specific genetics or brain structures
  • going through a traumatic or stressful life event
  • childhood experiences such as abuse or poverty
  • excessive drug or alcohol use

Research from 2022 states that bipolar disorder has strong genetic links. The research also states this is particularly true for the most severe type of bipolar disorder, type I.

Learn about the types of bipolar disorder here.

Bipolar III disorder may be difficult to identify due to the complexity of the disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association says individuals should show symptoms of bipolar III disorder for at least 2 years before a diagnosis. Therefore, the diagnosis process may be lengthy.

When diagnosing bipolar disorder of any type, a healthcare professional may first conduct a physical examination. They may also order lab tests to rule out any other conditions.

Healthcare professionals may also discuss a person’s symptoms, perform a mental health assessment, and talk about family history and life experiences.

If a healthcare professional believes a person may have any type of bipolar disorder, they can refer them to a mental health professional. This can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker. These mental health professionals may be able to provide a specific diagnosis.

People with bipolar disorder frequently receive a misdiagnosis of another mental health disorder, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • schizophrenia
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • personality disorders

A person with bipolar III disorder may start and stop treatment over time.

Treatment usually includes a mixture of medication and talking therapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mood journal may help with identifying patterns for mood changes.

The most common types of medications a person may receive include mood stabilizers and atypical antipsychotics. Healthcare professionals may also prescribe medications to help with sleep or anxiety difficulties.

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW, CYT, has reviewed these questions that people frequently ask about bipolar disorder.

What are the different types of bipolar disorder?

There are four types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, bipolar III, and “other specified” or “unspecified.”

Type I is where a person experiences one or more episodes of mania. They may also experience depressive episodes.

Bipolar II occurs when a person experiences depressive episodes as well as hypomanic episodes. Those with bipolar II never have a full manic episode.

Bipolar III, or cyclothymic disorder, is where people experience mild depressive symptoms and hypomanic symptoms. These symptoms do not usually meet the criteria for manic or depressive episodes.

The fourth type of bipolar disorder is “other specified” and “unspecified.” This is when a person does not meet the criteria for any of the above types but still experiences significant extreme mood elevations.

What is the highest level of bipolar disorder?

The most severe type of bipolar disorder is type I.

Is bipolar disorder inherited from the mother or father?

The risk of inheriting bipolar disorder is higher for first-degree relatives, such as the son or daughter of a parent with the condition. A person can inherit bipolar disorder from either their mother or their father.

However, many people with a close relative with bipolar disorder will not inherit the condition.

Bipolar III disorder is also known as cyclothymic disorder. A person with this type of bipolar disorder may experience hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not severe enough to meet the criteria for the other types of bipolar disorder.

The cause is not completely clear. However, genetics and brain structure may play a large part in the development of this disorder.

Treatment usually involves a mixture of medication and talking therapy. If a person is experiencing persistent mood changes, they should speak with a doctor or mental health professional.