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(Dysthymic Disorder)

Pronounced: Dis-thigh-mee-uh

En Español (Spanish Version)


Dysthymia is similar to depression , but its symptoms are milder and it lasts longer—at least two years. People with dysthymia experience mild to moderate depression that may subside during periods of normal mood that last up to two months. Dysthymia can be treated with medications, so contact your doctor if you think you have this condition.


The cause of dysthymia is not known. It is thought that changes in the brain’s production of the chemical serotonin, which helps your brain handle emotions and make judgments, may play a role.

Brainstem—Location of Serotonin Production

Brainstem and brain

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

The following factors increase your chance of developing dysthymia.

  • Sex: female
  • Family history of major depression or dysthymia
  • Chronic mental or physical illness

People who have dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression in their lifetime.


Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Difficulty functioning at work or school
  • Social withdrawal and/or conflicts
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Low self-esteem


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, giving special attention to:

  • How well you are sleeping
  • Your level of fatigue
  • Your ability to concentrate
  • Your family history of depression

Your doctor may perform tests and/or a physical exam to determine if you have another medical condition (eg, a thyroid disorder) or are taking a medication that is causing you to feel depressed. You may be referred to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Antidepressant Medications

Dysthymia can be treated with antidepressant medications that relieve depression. It may take a few weeks or months before you and your doctor can tell whether antidepressant medications are helping. You may need to take these medications for a number of years, and it is important to keep taking them until your doctor tells you to stop.


Psychotherapy may include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy

Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to medications and therapy, the following lifestyle modifications may help you feel better:

  • Participate in enjoyable activities.
  • Eat a healthful diet.
  • Avoid illegal drugs and alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Have a regular sleep schedule.


There are no guidelines for preventing dysthymia.


American Association of Family Physicians

National Institute of Mental Health

National Mental Health Association


Canadian Psychiatric Association

Mood Disorder Association of Canada


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . 4th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc; 2000.

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/complete-publication.shtml . Accessed January 20, 2008.

Dysthymia. National Mental Health Association website. Available at: http://www1.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/26.cfm . Accessed January 20, 2008.

Dysthymic disorder: when depression lingers. American Association of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/054.xml Accessed January 20, 2008.

Lim MA, Moncrieff J, Soares BGO. Drugs versus placebo for dysthymia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews . 2005;2:CD001130.

Last reviewed January 2008 by Janet H. Greenhut, MD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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