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What Is Rapid Cycling?

By Kimberly Read, Former About.com Guide

Updated August 11, 2011

Question: What Is Rapid Cycling?
Answer: Rapid cycling, according to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, occurs when a person experiences four or more mood swings or episodes in a twelve-month period. An episode can consist of depression, mania, hypomania or even a mixed state. According to Mitzi Waltz in Bipolar Disorders, women and children are more likely to be rapid cyclers. Expert Consensus states that five to 15 percent of those with bipolar disorder fit the criteria for rapid cycling.

The term "ultra-rapid cycling" may be applied to those who cycle through episodes within a month or less. If this pattern occurs within a 24-hour period, the person's diagnosis could possibly be termed "ultra-ultra-rapid cycling" or "ultradian." It is often difficult to tell ultradian cycling from a mixed episode.

According to Dr. Demitri Papolos, co-author of The Bipolar Child, the majority of children with bipolar disorder cycle very rapidly, some even alternating moods several times within one day.

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