A mood swing is a sudden or intense change in emotional state. During a mood swing, a person may quickly switch from feeling happy and upbeat to feeling sad, irritable, or angry.
Common causes of mood swings
Often, lifestyle factors play a role in the onset of mood swings. People may have sudden changes in mood if they are:
experiencing a significant life change, such as moving home or changing job
feeling stressed or overwhelmed
not getting enough sleep
not eating healthily
taking medications that impact mood or sleep
Regular and severe mood changes, however, can indicate an underlying condition. Some conditions that lead to mood swings can affect both males and females, while some affect females only.
Mood swings in males and females
Common mood-altering conditions that affect either sex include:
Bipolar disorder is when someone experiences periods of extreme emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). These highs and lows may occur rarely or several times each year.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 4.4% of adults in the United States will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
MDD affects more than 16.1 million adults in the U.S. and is more common among women than men. People with MDD experience persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things they usually enjoy.
Depression affects a person’s mood, everyday life, and relationships. Most people with depression experience several episodes of low mood during their lives. However, they may have periods of happiness and good mood in between.
Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is when someone experiences emotional highs and lows. It is similar to bipolar disorder but is less severe and less frequent.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
This form of depression was previously known as dysthymia. People with PDD experience long-term feelings of low mood that persist for at least 2 years.
PDD symptoms are not as severe as those of MDD, but they can significantly impact a person’s life and relationships. The condition affects approximately 1.5% of adults in the U.S. each year.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
Someone with BPD can experience intense mood swings and self-image issues, and they can have difficulty managing their behavior. Those with BPD have an intense fear of abandonment and tend to have unstable relationships.
According to some studies, 5.9% of people will experience BPD at some point in their lives.
Other mental health conditions
Other mental health disorders that can contribute to mood swings include:
Schizophrenia: People with schizophrenia have hallucinations or delusions that cause them to experience an altered state of reality. Schizophrenia significantly impacts quality of life.
Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD): DMDD is a childhood condition where the person experiences intense moodiness, including anger, extreme irritability, and temper outbursts. These symptoms must persist for 12 months or more for a diagnosis of DMDD.
Physical health conditions, especially chronic or terminal illness, can have a major effect on a person’s mood. These changes can be direct (through alterations in hormones or brain function) or indirect (by triggering depression or anxiety).
Examples of physical ailments that can lead to mood swings include: