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  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:



(Dysthymic Disorder; Persistent Depressive Disorder)


Dysthymia is long term, mild-to-moderate depression . It lasts for at least two years in adults. In children and teens, it lasts for one or more years.


The cause of dysthymia is not known. A brain chemical called serotonin may play a role.

Brainstem—Location of Serotonin Production.

Brainstem and brainhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=75377537si2235.jpgsi2235.jpgNULLjpgsi2235.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si2235.jpgNULL42NULL2008-12-10261400Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Dysthymia is more common in women than in men. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Loss and grief
  • Child abuse
  • Partner abuse
  • Stress, trauma, and life changes
  • Family history of depression or dysthymia
  • History of substance abuse
  • Long term illness
  • Brain injury


Symptoms of dysthymia and depression overlap. They may be:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Lack of hunger or overeating
  • Problems focusing
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Feeling tired
  • Low self-esteem
  • Problems at work or school

Bouts of major depression may also occur.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical and mental health exam will be given.

The doctor may refer the person to a specialist. Tests may be done to look for causes like thyroid problems or anemia. Dysthymia is diagnosed after ruling out other causes.


The goal is to ease symptoms and improve function. Severe symptoms may need hospital care. Care is urgent if someone might hurt themselves or others.

A number of treatments may be used. Options may be:


There are no current guidelines to prevent dysthymia. However, early care may help those at risk.





  • Depression. Mental Health America website. Available at: https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/depression.
  • Depressive disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/mood-disorders/depressive-disorders.
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/major-depressive-disorder-mdd.
  • Persistent depressive disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/persistent-depressive-disorder.
  • Persistent depressive disorder. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/persistent-depressive-disorder.
  • Schramm E, Klein DN, et al, Domschke K. Review of dysthymia and persistent depressive disorder: history, correlates, and clinical implications. Lancet Psychiatry. 2020;7(9):801-812.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.