Mood Swings

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What are mood swings?

Mood swings are excessive or abrupt changes in your frame of mind. Your mood may suddenly shift from elation and euphoria to extreme sadness or terror, and then on to another emotion. In some cases, mood changes are reactions to your environment or circumstances, although the intensity of the mood might seem out of proportion with the significance of the event. In other cases, mood swings may occur for no apparent reason.

Moods are thought to result from interplay of chemicals in the brain; the cause of mood swings is not known, but they may be related to imbalances in these chemicals.

Mood swings can occur as a symptom of psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, or they may result from a medical condition that directly affects the central nervous system, such as dementia, brain tumors, meningitis, and stroke. Mood swings can also result from conditions that deprive the brain of nutrients and oxygen, such as lung and cardiovascular diseases. Substance abuse, medication side effects, and hormonal changes are other potential causes of mood swings.

Academic, employment, financial, legal and relationship problems may result from mood swings.

Mood swings can be symptoms of serious, even life-threatening, conditions. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for seizure; serious injury; or threatening, irrational or suicidal behavior.

If your mood swings are persistent, worsen, cause you concern, or lead to academic, employment or relationship problems, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with mood swings?

Mood swings may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that frequently affect the brain may also involve other body systems.

Psychological and cognitive symptoms that may occur along with mood swings

Mood swings may accompany other psychological or cognitive symptoms including:

  • Anxiety, irritability or agitation
  • Boredom
  • Changes in mood, personality or behavior
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Difficulty with concentration or attention
  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Changes in mood, personality or behavior
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Difficulty with concentration or attention
  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Mood depression or elevation
  • Poor judgment
  • Racing thoughts and rapid speech
  • Reckless or inappropriate behaviors
  • Withdrawal or depression

    Other symptoms that may occur along with mood swings

    Mood swings may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

    Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

    In some cases, mood swings may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

    • Being a danger to yourself or others, including threatening, irrational or suicidal behavior
    • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions
    • Seizure
    • Suicidal actions including dangerous behavior, such as playing choking games or Russian roulette, or overdosing on drugs
    • Talking about or threatening to hurt oneself or another person
    • Talking about suicide, wanting to die, or not wanting to live any longer
    • Trauma, such as bone deformity, burns, eye injuries, and other self-inflicted injuries

    What causes mood swings?

    Mood swings can be associated with psychiatric conditions, substance abuse, medication side effects, or chronic medical conditions.

    Mood swings are common with medications, medical conditions, and substances that affect the central nervous system. They can be associated with conditions that can deprive the brain of nutrients and oxygen. Mood swings can also occur with hormonal changes.

    Psychiatric causes of mood swings

    Mood swings may be caused by psychiatric conditions including:

    • Bipolar disorder
    • Borderline personality disorder (disorder characterized by unstable relationships)
    • Depression
    • Intermittent explosive disorder (disorder characterized by extreme anger)
    • Postpartum depression
    • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
    • Substance abuse

    Other causes of mood swings

    Mood swings can have other causes including:

    Serious or life-threatening causes of mood swings

    In some cases, mood swings may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

    • Acute delirium (sudden onset of mental status changes due to illness or toxicity)
    • Alcohol poisoning or drug overdose
    • Mania (elevated mood and energy levels that can occur in bipolar disorder)
    • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
    • Stroke
    • Traumatic brain injury

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of mood swings

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your mood swings including:

    • When did you first notice your mood swings?
    • What moods do you experience when you have mood swings?
    • Does anything make them better or worse?
    • Do you have any other symptoms?
    • Do you have any other psychiatric or medical problems?
    • What medications are you taking?
    • Do you drink any alcohol?
    • Are you using any illicit drugs?

    What are the potential complications of mood swings?

    Because mood swings can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Brain damage, memory loss, attention difficulties, and impaired judgment
    • Coma
    • Difficulties at work, in school, in social environments, and with relationships
    • Drug and alcohol use and abuse
    • Drug overdose or alcohol poisoning
    • Impaired social interactions
    • Increased risk of injury
    • Legal or financial troubles
    • Self-harm
    • Social isolation
    • Suicide or violence
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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 31
    THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
    1. Major depression. PubMed Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001941/
    2. Mental and behavioral health care. Ohio State University Medical Center. http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/mental-behavioral/Pages/index.aspx
    3. Kravitz RL, Ford DE. Introduction: chronic medical conditions and depression--the view from primary care. Am J Med 2008; 121:S1.