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Brain Zaps: Causes & Treatments For Electrical Shock Sensations

Brain zaps are commonly reported electrical shock sensations that are often experienced during discontinuation of antidepressant medications. Other common names for brain zaps include: brain shivers, electrical shocks, and brain shocks. People often describe them as feeling electrical current uncontrollably zapping their brains, which can be extremely frightening and uncomfortable. A person experiencing these zaps may get dizzy, feel minor pain, and high levels of discomfort.

What causes brain zaps?

Brain zaps are considered to be caused by neurotransmitter alterations within the brain, particularly those involving “serotonin.” It is believed that serotonin plays a vital role in the development of these zaps due to the fact that people typically experience them when discontinuing serotonergic antidepressants (e.g. SSRIs). The zaps may also be caused via discontinuation of other psychotropic medications including: antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, MAOIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants.

  • Antidepressant withdrawal: During withdrawal from antidepressant medications, “brain zaps” are considered common symptoms to experience. It is believed that the severity and length of brain zaps may be related to whether a person discontinues “cold turkey” as opposed to tapering off of their medication.
  • Eye movements: It has been speculated that moving the eyes side to side may provoke or intensify brain zap sensations. While this is purely speculation, there are online accounts of individuals that found things like “looking to the side” can trigger them.
  • Medication side effects: Some individuals have reported experiencing “brain zaps” as side effects from certain medications. These may be experienced when a person initially begins taking a psychotropic medication. It is thought that adjustments in the functioning of various neurotransmitters are responsible for the zaps.
  • Skipping a dose: If you are on a medication and you accidentally miss or intentionally skip a dose, you may notice unpleasant brain zaps. When people experience the zap sensation, they quickly remember that they forgot to take their medication.
  • Other medications: It should be mentioned that medications other than antidepressants can cause brain zaps. While they are most commonly experienced as a result of taking serotonergic antidepressants, benzodiazepines and antipsychotics have also been suggested as potential causes.

How long do brain zaps last?

There is no set “timeline” that says how long brain zaps will last. The zaps people experience are generally subject to individual variation. One person may experience them for a significant duration (e.g. weeks or months), while another may find that they go away in short order (e.g. hours or days). There are a number of factors that can influence how long these “zaps” may persist including: your physiology, duration you took your medication, the dosage, and whether you quit cold turkey or tapered.

It should also be noted that while some individuals experience a bulk of the zaps immediately following discontinuation, some experience the zaps during more protracted phases of withdrawal. In other words, some individuals may have no zaps for weeks, and then experience them seemingly out of nowhere.

Factors that can influence the severity of brain zaps

There are several factors that are thought to influence both the severity and duration of the brain zaps. These factors include things like: individual physiology, level of anxiety, the drug that was taken, how quickly a person discontinued, and whether they are currently taking other medications.

  • Individual physiology: Since not everyone experiences brain zaps, it should be noted that severity of the zaps will vary based on the individual. People with certain genes and/or more resilient nervous systems may not ever experience zaps even when quitting cold turkey. Some individuals will experience the zaps for longer duration than others. Keep in mind that your experience with these zaps may not be the same as someone else in terms of sensation, severity, and duration.
  • Medication: Another huge factor in determining the duration and severity of the zaps is the particular medication that a person was (or is) taking. In most cases, the zaps occur upon discontinuation or skipping a dose of an antidepressant medication. While it is most commonly experienced during SSRI withdrawal, other classes of antidepressants and medications (e.g. benzodiazepines) have been suggested to cause zaps.
    • Cold turkey vs. tapering: If you want to decrease your chances of experiencing severe, persistent brain zaps, make sure you taper off of your medication slowly. The more gradually you taper, the less likely the brain zaps are to occur. If you quit cold turkey, you are significantly increasing your chances of experiencing these jolts.
    • Duration of treatment: How long were you taking your medication? Those who were on a particular drug for a long period of time are more likely to experience the zaps. This is due to the fact that the drug induced more changes in neural functioning and neurotransmission over the long-term than it would have over the short-term. In general, the shorter the duration for which you took your medication, the less likely you are to experience zaps.
    • Half-life: What was the half-life of your drug? Medications with extremely short half-lives are more likely to cause zaps upon discontinuation or missing a dose. A common example of a medication with a short half life is that of Paxil (21 hours). People are much more likely to experience zaps from Paxil than Prozac (with a longer half life of several days).
    • Specific drug: Some would suggest that the particular drug that a person takes will influence the zaps. Certain drug formulations are thought to be of greater potency and affect neurotransmission more than others. The more potent the serotonergic drug, the more likely a person will experience zaps.
  • Other drugs: One factor that not many people consider is that of taking other drugs. Often times people who are taking other medications will not experience brain zaps because the other medication and/or supplement is mitigating the zaps. This is why many people transition to other medications like Prozac or claim that certain supplements help them cope with the zaps. If a person isn’t taking any other drugs or supplements upon discontinuation, the zaps will likely be more severe than those who are still medicated.
  • Level of anxiety: Some have speculated that when a person becomes more anxious, they are more prone to the zaps. This could be due to the fact that anxiety stimulates the central nervous system, and thus could be preventing repairs from occurring after withdrawal. In other cases, people with high anxiety may perceive the brain zaps as being worse than they actually are and/or believe that there is some more significant health problem.

Theories about causes of brain zaps

Brain zaps have long been described by individuals dealing with first-hand experience of antidepressant withdrawal. The zaps feel like jolts of electricity through the head, neck, or other areas of the body such as the spine, arms, and/or legs. In most people, the most common area to experience these zaps is in the head, thus being referred to as “brain” zaps. There are several theories in regards to what may cause them. While certain factors are suggested as causes, the specifics are unknown.

REM Sleep and Serotonin

One hypothesis is floating around the internet that suggests brain zaps are linked to both REM sleep and serotonin. Some people experience brain zaps after waking up from sleep and/or when they fall asleep. A theory is that REM sleep (rapid-eye movement) may influence serotonergic processes in the brain, and the “zaps” are a byproduct of the rapid-eye movement. Whether this has any credibility is debatable. Those who have felt the zaps while sleeping may be able to provide more insight into this experience.

Transitioning out of drug-induced states

Some experts believe that they are a result of the brain suddenly attempting to transition out of the drug-induced neurotransmission to which it had adapted. There are many reports of brain zaps, some of which have been so severe that doctors thought they were experiencing seizures. A couple of British psychiatrists described brain zaps as, “sensory symptoms or symptoms of disequilibrium in brief bursts” when a person moves their head or eyes.

Analogy: Scuba diver surfacing too quickly

They emphasized that this generally occurs during discontinuation from a psychiatric medication. An analogy that has been used to describe why brain zaps occur is a scuba diver who is at the bottom of the ocean, but rises to the surface too fast – resulting in unwanted effects. Other psychiatric authors have suggested that brain zaps are likely influenced by serotonin’s role in sensory functions and muscle movement.

Paresthesia

When a person quits an antidepressant, the person then may experience paresthesia or various sensations as a result of abnormal serotonin levels. These authors describe the fact that major changes to neuronal networks can occur during antidepressant treatment, thus leading to zaps when the brain attempts to function without the drug.

Length of treatment and dosage

Authors have also suggested that both length of treatment and the dosage taken may influence the severity of brain zaps. Additionally, other researchers have hypothesized that in addition to serotonin playing a role in the zaps, norepinephrine may also be a contributing factor – especially for individuals who come off of SNRIs.

Pre-Seizure symptoms?

Researchers have stated that these brain zaps could be similar to pre-seizure symptoms seen in cases of epilepsy. Since there is evidence that the noradrenergic system plays a role in seizure development, it would make sense that norepinephrine could influence brain zaps.

What do brain zaps feel like?

They are relatively difficult to describe because they affect each person differently. For some they are more severe and resemble electrical jolts, while for others they are less severe and easier to cope with. Most would agree that they feel some sort of “electrical” sensation within their head as a result of them. Below is a list of various descriptions of the zaps based on first-hand experiences.

Descriptions:

  • Electrical shocks
  • “Flicking cards” through your head
  • Electrical jolts
  • Light-bulb going off in your head
  • Lightning strikes in the brain
  • “Pop rocks” in the head
  • Pulses of electricity
  • Shivers of the brain
  • Strobe light flashing in the brain

Note: These sensations are often accompanied by sensations of dizziness and/or vertigo. Others may experience symptoms of nausea and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

How to stop brain zaps…

There are no known medical treatments that are prescribed specifically to stop the brain zaps. In most cases, people will have to put up with them and understand that with proper time, they will eventually subside. Below are some recommendations that may help you better deal with the zaps.

  • Conduct a slower taper: If you quit your medication cold turkey, you may need to start taking it again, and then conduct a slower, more gradual taper off of it. Many zaps are caused when people quit their mediation too quickly and/or from too high of a dose.
  • Go back on medication: Another option that some people pursue is simply going back on their medication. After a person is back on their medication they can then decide to taper more slowly and/or switch to a different medication.
  • Take Prozac (longer half-life): A strategy for minimizing brain zaps and general antidepressant withdrawal symptoms is to transition to a drug with a longer half-life. Often an experienced psychiatrist will recommend transitioning to Prozac and eventually withdrawing from the Prozac, which should reduce the chances of the zaps.
  • Supplements: Many people swear by taking various supplements to reduce the severity of brain zaps. Whether these supplements actually work to alleviate the zaps is unverified. Many individuals have said that supplementation of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids improve these zaps to a significant extent. Some have suggested that they completely cure the zapping.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: Many people claim that the best way to deal with brain zaps is to take omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil supplements. It is unknown why the fish oil helps, but many have testified that it works wonders. While most user accounts suggest taking “fish oil” some would speculate that “krill oil” would provide similar results.
    • Vitamin B12: Some have suggested that getting proper vitamins helps significantly to minimize the zaps. In particular, many people have recommended taking Vitamin B12 supplements and have found them especially helpful. The combination of the B12 with fish oil is able to decrease the severity and frequency of zaps in some people.
  • Time heals all: Understand that although the zaps may be somewhat painful, frustrating, and annoying, they will eventually subside. Even if it seems like they are a permanent neurological problem, rest assured they are not. Eventually your brain will figure out how to repair itself and as your neurotransmission restores itself, you will no longer feel the zaps. For some people the zaps may last days, for others weeks, and for others even longer, but they will subside in time.

Are brain zaps considered dangerous?

If there’s one thing to know about these brain zaps, it should be that they are not considered dangerous. There is no scientific evidence supporting any claims that these jolt-like sensations cause any brain damage or interfere with the health of neurons. Although they may be highly-uncomfortable to experience, at least you don’t have to worry about them killing brain cells.

Have you experienced brain zaps?

Many people have experience brain zaps upon discontinuation from an antidepressant medication. I personally remember quitting Paxil CR and wondering why it felt like my brain was being tortured in an electrocution chamber. For most people, the brain zaps suck, but will eventually subside. If you have a personal experience with “brain zaps” feel free to share it in the comments section below. Also feel free to mention any supplements and/or strategies that have helped you cope with the zaps.

Take the “Brain Zaps” Questionnaire

Patients know that most medical professionals are unwilling to acknowledge “brain zaps” and usually attribute them to worsening of neuropsychiatric conditions and/or a somatic disorder.  Because brain zaps are a legitimate [yet largely unacknowledged] phenomenon among psychiatric patients, a subset of professionals (and many patients) agree that it would be useful to develop guidelines for their prevention and/or treatment.

After being presented with a patient experiencing severe brain zaps, a clinical psychiatrist decided to conduct an investigation by formatting a questionnaire.  I was asked to include the questionnaire on this page.

If you’re interested in helping medical professionals better understand “brain zaps,” feel free to participate in the following survey:  Click here to take the “Brain Zaps” Questionnaire.  The questionnaire results will be used to develop guidelines for brain zap prevention, minimization, and/or treatment.  (UPDATE: Questionnaire is now closed).

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{ 771 comments… add one }
  • Melissa March 25, 2018, 5:16 pm

    I have been taking venlafaxine (Effexor) the lowest dose 37.5 mg for 10 years. When I started going through menopause I started having high anxiety and even started having full blown panic attacks. My doctor told me is was due to hormone surges.

    I didn’t start having the brain zaps till we upped my dose so we lowered it back. There is no consistency to the brain zaps but I always wake up with them when I have them. I do take omega 3 krill oil, but I going to get some B12 and see if that helps.

    This is the worst feeling. Glad to know I’m not crazy, but sorry for everyone else that has to suffer from these too!

    • Ron Livelsberger March 28, 2018, 12:22 am

      I also take Venlafaxine and due to complications with not being able to afford my medication (out of pocket), I am currently forced to go without. I started having severe brain zaps almost immediately. I wonder if it’s a common thing with venlafaxine? As it stands I am on my 4th day without any medication. I will be able to afford my RX next week. The brain zaps are very uncomfortable though.

  • Brenda Davis March 24, 2018, 7:23 pm

    I have taken different antidepressants over a period of several yrs, I’m 56 and have been on and off with them since teens! In June of 2013. I had a hysterectomy and was prescribed Celexa, 40mg for help with the surgery induced menopause that I was going through.

    2014 was the first time I experienced the brain zaps!! And I thought I was going crazy!! I had run out in between refills and after a couple of days of not having a pill, the zaps started. I guess the only point I’m trying to make, is this has NEVER happened with any other medicine I was on!!

    It had increased throughout the years, and I am currently going through it because I have stopped the medication altogether! They were happening when there was no reason for them, time to change things up! I’m going to try fish oil and B12!!

  • Jess March 24, 2018, 1:10 pm

    I just stopped taking my antidepressant cold turkey 5 days ago. Probably not super smart but it just happened how it happened. I didn’t realize that what I was experiencing had a name: brain zaps. It’s very nice to know I’m not just losing my mind. I would describe the sensation as what it feels like to have a severe head cold. It sucks a lot, but it’s encouraging to know there is an end to them.

  • Dennis March 24, 2018, 12:37 pm

    I’ve had these for years whenever I am coming off anti-depressants or if they stop working properly. Been on zoloft (sertraline) most of the time. But I’ve been getting these off and on for several weeks now and I have been taking my meds properly, so that shouldn’t be the cause this time.

    The one thing that I have changed, is that I started a ketogenic diet about a month ago. That must have something to do with it as far as I can tell. I’m not getting depressed or anxious so hopefully it’s nothing to worry about.

  • Moira March 22, 2018, 5:56 pm

    I have been off Zoloft for about a month and am experiencing these still. There are actually some times where they lessen however they continue to irritate me. Going to get some supplements today and hopefully these will help. So glad to know I am not alone in experiencing this strange phenomenon.

  • Nancy March 19, 2018, 3:39 am

    I’m so happy to find this site because I’ve been having this for years and no one has ever had the foggiest idea what I’m talking about. It’s a relief to discover it’s not uncommon and it’s not dangerous. I’ve taken venlafaxine (Effexor) for many years and for me it happens if I forget a dose or I’m late taking it.

    In even as little as 1-2 hours from a missed dose it feels like little synapses are going off in my brain. It’s never been painful, just odd and worrisome. The sensation usually only lasts for up to 30 minutes or so, off and on. Usually I’m able to take the dose before long.

    I’ve been wondering if it has anything to do with the length of time I’ve been on venlafaxine. I don’t recall it happening earlier on and it seems to be happening more often in the last year. And occasionally it can happen even without a late dose. Anyway, it’s not just me!

  • Jeff March 11, 2018, 12:00 pm

    I have experienced the brain zaps for years. I am almost 46 years old. I recently had a sleep study done and will be going on a CPAP machine. Apparently, the lack of oxygen during sleep affects the hippocampus in a negative way.

    The damage the this part of the brain can be partially undone by use of SSRI’s and increased oxygen. When the studies say that the zaps are harmless, this should be met with skepticism.

    Zaps inside your head is not exactly a normal brain function and shouldn’t be ignored or brushed off by doctors that simply can’t explain it. Obviously, there is something negative going on inside the brain to cause the zaps.

    The neurons in the hippocampus are either overacting due to anxiety, or dying due to lack of oxygen. In either instance, this is causing damage. I am excited to begin CPAP therapy and may consider use of SSRIs to assist in recovery. The constant exhaustion has now caused depression.

    • Jess March 24, 2018, 1:15 pm

      I’ve been using a CPAP since June 2017. Although it’s not attractive by any means and I’m not thrilled that I have to use it all, it has done wonders for my mental health and energy level. You’ll be amazed…just give it some time. Good luck!

  • Samantha March 2, 2018, 9:28 pm

    Hello, I just stumbled across this and it was really informative to me. I’ve been scared for the past couple of days because of these zaps in my head.

    My psych doctor took me off escitalophram a couple days ago. I took 20mg and brought myself down to 10mg before going to see him. Then he told me to bring myself down to 5mg before starting the new antidepressant he was going to put me on.

    I brought myself down for one day and started my new meds this morning. All day I’ve been having these brain zaps. I’ve had them before when I missed a couple of doses of my meds.

    I just hope they go away and my other meds start kicking in really soon.

  • Maddy March 2, 2018, 5:53 pm

    I had been on Prozac off and on for about 10 years and never had any problems. About two months ago I decided the Prozac wasn’t as effective anymore and my doctor prescribed Effexor XR. I didn’t think it was doing any good for me so I took the liberty to wean myself off by cutting my 150mg dose in half and then just stop taking it…

    My gosh this is horrendous! Doesn’t anyone research and test these medications before allowing people to take them??? I mean I was only on them for two damned months? Brain zaps, nausea, misery. I’ve decided to see a counselor for my depression and get my ass in the gym and eating right instead of taking medication.

    Never again. Just waiting for the “time” to pass so I can actually leave my house without feeling like I’m having a seizure. BTW there is now a DNA test you can take that will tell your doctor which medications will work best for you. I didn’t do it because it isn’t covered by insurance yet.

  • Lynn Bond February 5, 2018, 1:29 pm

    I took my self off of Lexapro more than 3 years ago after about 10 yrs on “head” meds. I still have these brain zaps. They happen mostly at night to me, just when I get sleeping good they will happen. Some nights are worse than others so the R.E.M sleep stage connection could be true, however, I am trying to figure out if any other meds can trigger them.

    I am on ropinirole for restless leg syndrome and wonder if this med keeps them going. I also have a buzzing in my ear constantly. The buzzing sounds like cicada’s and the brain zaps sounds like a light saber going through my head. Between the two, I get very little rest. My dr’s always look at me like I’m out of my mind but as I get older, its disrupting my sleep so much I am sleepy and tired constantly. Any advice would be welcomed.

  • Samantha January 31, 2018, 7:20 pm

    I’m on 40mg Celexa, 100mg Lamictal, and 10mg Norco 5x/day, have been on these meds for over 10 years, had the zaps when going off the Celexa for a few months last summer, but now I’m getting them for seemingly no reason at all. They’re becoming more frequent and intense, and they’re starting to feel like little seizures.

    It’s worrying me, even though I know how common they are, and I’m wondering if there’s anything else that could be causing them. I realize my worry is likely making them worse, however, I’m worried because there’s no explanation for them having begun in the first place.

    Has anyone else had them with no identifiable reason behind them? Did you ever figure out a cause? Does anyone know if anything other than the obvious causes them? Thank you, everyone!

    • Emma February 25, 2018, 3:28 pm

      I too have been experiencing them and I am not tapering off any of my meds. Currently on 75mg of Effexor and 500 lamictal. I notice them when I wake during the night and in the morning if I have to wake up early for work etc it takes about a good hour or two before they stop. I have no explanation from any of my Doctors. Just thought I’d let you know that you are not the only one.

    • Craig March 9, 2018, 1:08 am

      This may sound crazy, When I was on Effexor I found if I missed taking my meds exactly at the same time everyday I would get the zaps severely. I found I still had to work so I drank a Red Bull and this straightened me out… not prefect but enough that I could peel myself off the floor and function. This is not recommended I’m sure, but wondering if anyone else has tried this?

  • Leslie January 22, 2018, 2:52 am

    I had to stop taking Cymbalta cold turkey because the doctor I was going to said that their funding had been cut so I would have to pay for a regular office visit which I could not afford. The brain zaps started two days after I stopped the medication. I couldn’t even describe to people how I was feeling. I explained it best I could.

    I didn’t know there was a name for it until I looked up Cymbalta withdrawals and there it was. I could finally put a name to what I was feeling. I have had the zaps for four days so far and they are constant. Every time I move or blink, I feel the shock going through my head. I am in constant misery. I am going to start taking a vitamin every day to see if that will help at all and pray it isn’t long lasting.

  • No January 14, 2018, 6:35 am

    Aside from the eye pressure theory, eye movement speed and assessing the situation could maybe also the cause, since eye movement takes especially on the vertical axis – where brain zaps do not occur – longer than on the horizontal axis. Maybe the brain interprets on the vertical axis “less changes” in the situation as on the horizontal axis.

    But I still think that Zaps are some sort of a fast blocked anxiety reaction.

  • No January 14, 2018, 6:18 am

    Yes, I can confirm most of those theories. My (SSRI-cold Turkey induced) Brain Zaps occur mainly while moving the eyes from right to left and vice versa.

    I had brain zaps in combination with eye movement, without taking any drugs like SSRIs, since my childhood when:

    -I was very sick (for example, flu with high body temperatures)
    -Having nightmares (short period after waking up)

    Later:
    -Having (stress induced) sleep paralysis, after finally waking up

    Notice: When I take SSRIs, I see at the edge of my eyes short flashes when I move them from right to left and vice versa. They do -not- appear when I’m on cold turkey. So in theory Zaps are somehow linked to those sensations.

    Since serotonin also acts as a pressure regulator in a eye, I think that the cause of zaps is located there. I think that the brain “expects” (more or less consciously perceived) visually something which does not appear when suffering from surplus serotonin and reacts with Zaps.

    Maybe they can be identified of some sort of “misfired and fast blocked scaring reaction” – since my Zaps also are linked of some sort of anxiety in certain situations.

  • Emily Cameron January 1, 2018, 5:20 am

    I haven’t taken any of these medications but I get these electric shocks as I referred to them when I get a bad cold. I just found out through browsing the web that they are commonly known as brain zaps. And furthermore, I thought this was normal when getting sick until others I spoke to never experienced it. Not sure what this means for me but am curious if anyone else has experienced this when under-the-weather. Not finding anything yet.

    • Gayle Jordan February 21, 2018, 10:08 pm

      Hi Emily. I’m experiencing these brain zaps after coming of tablets last week. Like you, I also got them when sick and thought it was normal until I found out what this feeling was today. I also had them when I was on Chantix to help me stop smoking.

    • San March 15, 2018, 11:21 am

      Hi Emily, I also haven’t taken any of these medications and I also get these electric shocks (brain zaps). I’m been going through a stressful time with my husband (disputes and accusations), things that aren’t true.

      I just can’t convince him. Nonetheless I feel that the zaps are caused by this stress. As a teenager when I left home the first time, I experienced the same thing. Maybe you’ve been under a bit of stress like me.

  • Tabitha December 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Just a little under two weeks ago I was placed on 50 mg of Zoloft daily. I took them for 8 or 9 days and decided that the side effects far outweigh any benefits. I literally felt like I was dying, the Zoloft did nothing but throw me into a deeper depression.

    I stopped them cold turkey on Sunday. I’m on day 2 of having brain zaps, it’s unbelievable to me that I am experiencing them after only a few days on the medication. Just goes to show these medications suck, the doctors that prescribe them and the pharmacies that give them suck.

  • Carol December 10, 2017, 5:09 pm

    I quit 100 mg of Zoloft after taking for 2+ yrs and it’s been 2+ months and I’m still getting those freaking zaps! I am 56 healthy and active. I feel great except for these zaps!!

  • Johnny December 3, 2017, 4:36 am

    I just started having these “Brain Zaps” this morning so I looked it up and here I am.

    Backstory: I am on Alprazolam (2-4mg a day) and have been for years now. I never had these Zaps until today and here’s a good possibility why (In my opinion). A week ago, I ingested a sizeable amount of MDMA, I had a great time and went on with life as usual the next day…NO ZAPS.

    The following Tuesday, I ingested MORE, MDMA this time, much more. (approx 2mg). I didn’t get the same high at all, only for a fraction of the time and the rest of the night I dealt with a very uncomfortable speedy paranoid 8 hours. I got some sleep and I replenished my self well the following day.

    TODAY, I woke up and was VERY uncomfortable from some really high adrenaline and emotional dreams and that’s when I started noticing the zaps. I can hear them first off. They sound like someone is swooshing paper together in my head really fast every time I move my eye’s in any direction.

    Next, it sends the electrical shock-wave through my body, my eye’s being the epicenter of this wave. It’s a cold feeling and it ends in my sternum which makes it very uncomfortable. I haven’t changed my Alprazolam intake, and I’ve kept a good diet.

    I hope this leave me soon, as I did some stupid *** by taking the MDMA while on a Benzodiazepine. I recommend not doing this if you’d like to remain Brain Zap Free. I hope this helps and I hope this goes away soon. Thanks for the ear, -J

  • Lexi June 8, 2017, 12:37 am

    I literally thought was going crazy or sincerely getting sick but when I went to research this weird feeling I had (originally I was looking up low blood sugar). I came across so many people who were actually just withdrawing from celexa.

    I am prescribed 20mg a day for anxiety and BPD… But recently I ran out and it takes forever to get a refill. I have been off for a week now and as each day goes the zaps get more persistent. They knock my balance for a loop and it’s quite uncomfortable.

  • Rose June 2, 2017, 4:23 am

    I had cosmetic surgery last week and was under general anesthesia. I also took muscle relaxers and Oxycontin separately for about 2-3 after to help with the pain pressure that I was experiencing. About one week after I began to experience the sensation of electricity running through my brain. I hope it subsides soon. This article has confirmed that my mind is not making up symptoms. I had never even considered that it might be the drugs.

  • Suzy April 15, 2017, 12:43 am

    I’m having these brain zaps right now. I’m currently tapering off Effexor but I think the the drop from 75mg to 37.5mg might have been a little too drastic. I couldn’t figure out what to call what I was feeling when describing it to others.

    It feels like my neurons are firing but they are not connecting with anything so it just feels and sounds like a quick thump or throb. Yeah I can hear it. So strange. I’m hoping that I can adjust quickly to the lower dosage, as this is probably the weirdest and most annoying sensation I’ve ever felt.

  • Nichole March 19, 2017, 2:24 am

    I can’t believe I found this. I’ve been suffering from these brain zaps for years. And yes, looking to the side makes it worse. I’ve been on Prozac for almost 20 years. It’s the only medication that works for me, but I’ve had these symptoms on and off for years. They may last a day or a few hours… it depends. Once I went two weeks without taking my Prozac and the brain zaps started progressing in an alarming way. They would end up traveling all the way down my legs and feet and eventually I felt like I was gonna have a seizure, so I went back on my meds and the symptoms stopped.

  • Rebecca March 18, 2017, 11:58 am

    I took Zoloft for 3-4 years as a teenager. As I was attempting to wean off of the drug, I noticed these horrible “zap”-like feelings when I would move my eyes to the side quickly (or normally, really.. eyes move quickly!). It was scary, I would stop in my tracks and just kind of grab my head and squeeze my eyes shut as I’d feel a small “electrical buzz” within my head.

    It took at least 2 hard weeks for this to stop (happened at least a few times per day), but I got off of Zoloft nonetheless. NEVER AGAIN! Behavioral therapy (on my own) and being around adventurous people has changed my mindset way more than Zoloft ever could! Brain zaps are horrible, period. Plus, there’s no warning signs and many doctors may as well consider you a hypochondriac.

  • John Cottle March 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

    Former department of neurology member. The symptoms described as “brain zaps” are the consequence of disturbance within the oculo-vestibular complex and are elicited by movement of the eyes either far left or right. The OV complex is responsible for coordinating balance through a very delicate symbiosis between eye movements and the vestibular network to provide continuous feedback regarding the body’s position in its environment in order to maintain balance.

    When SSRI treatment is discontinued, or even within the treatment phase, changes in serotonin produce an uncharacteristic delay between the visual aspect of the OV network and the vestibular network. These delays are sensed as pulses, zaps, winks or other descriptive sensations.

    The sensations can also be temporarily extinguished by making repeated gaze of the eyes either far left or right until the sensations abate. Remaining motionless for several minutes and then reconstituting the extreme gaze will once again produce the pulsing sensations to occur.

    They are harmless in nature but can be disturbing when driving or undertaking tasks that require fine balance. Some patients experience the events for as much as 1 year following SSRI treatment, while others find relief after only several weeks to a month or so after cessation of treatment.

  • Teresa Denae March 16, 2017, 3:14 pm

    This is very helpful for most people discontinuing psychotropics. I however have not discontinued my medications (tramadol, lamictal, cymbalta) and I am still having these brain zaps. As well I am having headaches and balance problems. Any one else?

    • Garrett March 17, 2017, 2:02 pm

      You may need to try different medications. I was prescribed Wellbutrin for depression and after about a week I was having brain zaps all day long with terrible anxiety and panic attacks for the first time in my life. I switched back to what I was on before and they went away.

  • Anonymous March 12, 2017, 2:02 pm

    I have never taken anti-depressants. I developed what I believe to be these exact same symptoms to the point where I was considering getting a prescription for SSRIs to see if they would help. Turns out I had Pituitary Adenoma.

    So if you could only find the words “brain zap” to describe what you felt, you then googled that term and found this article, you are now reading this comment please get an MRI as soon a possible because despite what many people have said here about their scan being completely clear, yours might not be.

  • CJ March 3, 2017, 4:06 am

    I experienced brain zaps for the first time today – I was very tired after work and tried to take a short nap when ZAP! I got jolted awake by the sensation of a bolt of electricity going horizontally through my head, just in front of my temples. I’ve felt disoriented and nauseated since, with an enormous pressure in my head.

    Thing is, I’ve never been on any sort of anti-depressant. I’ve never been on any kind of anti-anxiety or mood stabilizer of any kind, actually. Maybe there’s something to the REM theory, since I was trying to nap?

  • Bob C March 2, 2017, 5:39 pm

    Drug interaction between Venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and Dextromethorphan (common cough suppressant in cold medicine). Hoping this might help someone – I’m pretty used to getting mild brain zaps if I forget to take my daily Effexor XR 150mg, but the last few days I’ve been getting severe zaps almost constantly if I move my eyes. I’d been feeling under the weather, so I started taking an over-the-counter cold medicine that included the cough suppressant dextromethorphan.

    Within the first few doses the brain zaps began, and increased in severity. I had no idea about the major drug interaction between venlafaxine and dextromethorphan. I guess they can work together to produce too much serotonin in the brain and cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially life threatening condition.

    The only confusing part is that brain zaps are commonly associated with withdrawal from, rather than an increase in serotonin. I guess my rudimentary understanding is that any change in serotonin levels in the brain can cause undesired effects, differing depending on the person. So, the bottom line – always check for drug interactions and don’t assume (as I did) that an over the counter medicine is safe to take with your anti-depressant.

  • Geoff February 28, 2017, 11:23 pm

    I’ve been taking Citalopram 20mg for around 1 year and finally decided to come off it after putting on 40 pounds! Been off it for a couple of weeks now and get brain zaps when scrolling through my news feeds on Facebook, or when scrolling down a page on a website. Thing that I’ve found to help is to try to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain naturally. Mainly through orgasms and exercise! Works great and is also fun :-)

  • Nick Cooper February 25, 2017, 1:24 pm

    I’ve had an extreme B12 deficiency for most of my adult life and take injections every 12 weeks. I came off 150mg Venlafaxine cold turkey and the brain zaps were horrendous (mind zap seems more appropriate). I think the zaps are associated with electrical discharge because they seem to have an inherent frequency like mains 50/60Hz when they strike – that same buzzing you feel if you’ve ever had a real electrical AC shock.

    I’m also epileptic and yes, sometimes I thought these zaps were petit-mal seizures and was concerned that they could be the prelude to a tonic clonic, full blown generalized fit. That never happened even though I’ve had many grand-mal seizures in other contexts. So what helped me?

    -Benzos for a bit (diazepam, librium but not short half-life like Xanax).
    -I also tried Zopiclone during the day and that definitely helped.
    -Propranolol (beta blocker).
    -Hot baths for some reason I can’t fathom (pun intended).
    -Watching TV from a distance with a deliberate focus.
    -Avoiding talking to others.
    -Eating (while you are doing it).
    -Letting out emotions.
    -Yawning.
    -Plenty of sleep.
    -Knowing that it would pass.

    What made it worse?

    -Reading.
    -Laptops.
    -Head movement.
    -Worry.
    -Fresh air.
    -Walking.
    -Loud and sudden sounds.
    -Too much ambient light.
    -Having to respond to others.
    -Hunger.
    -Fatigue.
    -Holding back emotions.

  • Garrett February 24, 2017, 7:57 pm

    I was on Citalopram for a couple of years and decided to quit taking antidepressants but I didn’t wean myself off slowly. I’m not sure if this caused my brain zaps or not but I have been dealing with them for 6 years now. Almost every night I wake up 50-60 mins after falling asleep, I usually have nightmares of being thrown around or I’m stumbling around and can’t walk, this is due to me entering REM sleep and having constant brain zaps.

    I’m going to try some vitamins suggested in this article, but moral of the story – slowly wean yourself off meds.

  • Shelby February 15, 2017, 8:13 am

    I’m relieved that these are not dangerous. I don’t feel zaps in my brain so much but it feels like an electric shock through my entire body. Has anyone else experienced this? Perhaps this is a different symptom of antidepressant withdrawal. I was on lexapro 10mg and tapered for a few months and I’ve completely stopped this week. I feel fine other than just fatigue and a weird electric shock/shiver.

  • John February 15, 2017, 7:22 am

    Hello. I’ve been taking Paxil IR for 15 years now. I’ve tried to quit a couple dozen times. The first time (like many people I had no warning of what would happen if I stopped taking the meds) I went into a CVS in tears and begged the pharmacist for a Paxil to stop the zaps until I could see my doctor. He had his assistant drive me to the hospital.

    I’ve come to terms with the fact I’ll take paxil (I take half a 10mg pill a day) for the rest of my life. I’m 34. I can’t handle brain zaps, I fall apart in every aspect of my life when I get them. Even after weaning off slowly for a year I was getting zaps 5 times a MINUTE. It was misery.

    So – Big Pharma has beaten this guy. If 5mg a day of this stupid drug that ceased to actually affect me in any way other than to stave off withdraw will keep me from zapping to death, so be it.

  • Mary Townsend February 10, 2017, 3:59 am

    I started having brain zaps before I started any medication back in the mid 80’s. It was from anxiety. I began anxiety medicine and still had zaps from time to time. I have fibro/CFS and am on trazodone and cymbalta along with the klonopin for anxiety. A CFS flair will cause zaps. Also serotonin poisoning. Hate zaps!!! 30 years of them from time to time.

  • Laura February 5, 2017, 5:01 am

    I was on Zoloft for 8 months 9 years ago for postpartum depression. When I weaned off, the zaps were almost unbearable. Eventually the strength of the zaps dwindled, but what unnerves me is that, 9 years later, I still have them. I’ve had them for 9 years. They hit me usually when I’m waking from a nap and I’m still groggy.

    And they last off and on for an hour or so. But they’ve also come at random times and I haven’t been able to find a common denominator that triggers it. I’m freaked out that there’s something really wrong in my brain. No doctor can give me answers. I’ve asked several. I suppose I could spend money to see a neurologist but I don’t have it. I hate antidepressants and will never ever go on them again!

  • Diana January 31, 2017, 5:48 pm

    I have been having these brain zaps for 18 or 19 months, although I have not taken antidepressants or any other psychotropic meds for many years. I have been, however, taking a beta blocker and an anti-hypertensive, and have been for some time before the zaps started. Mine started after a severe family upset which, at the time, sent my BP sky high again, and at the time they were happening about 8 or 10 times per night, just before I would fall asleep.

    It never happened before in my life, and now after all these months, they are much reduced, happening just once or twice and not every night. So I do believe they will stop at some point. What surprises me is that I am a nurse both general and mental health trained and I never heard of this until it started happening to me.

    I am glad to read about it because I thought I might be heading for seizures. I just wonder about the cause of mine since it’s not obviously medication related.

  • Jennifer January 30, 2017, 4:43 am

    So glad I found this site. I’ve just finished tapering off Lexapro/Escitalopram after two years on it and am starting to experience these weird feelings of unreality, anxiety and dizziness – not just in my head but all through my body, like a tingling strange feeling where I feel like I’m a little wobbly all over.

    It’s summed up perfectly here by other people and I can definitely see my symptoms fit in here as “brain zaps”. Love the name:-) Really hope it ends soon but am determined to stay off this stuff. Now I just want to lose the 17kgs I packed on over the last 2 years!! Good luck to everyone else on here as well.

    • Shelby February 15, 2017, 8:17 am

      I’ve been getting the exact same symptom it’s almost like an electric shock through the entire body. I also took Lexapro but for not as long. I hope you feel better soon.

  • Prue Hart January 27, 2017, 12:54 pm

    What a relief to have found this site and know that I am not growing a brain tumor nor going mad and that my cataract surgery has some damage to it! thank you all for your input. I have in the last two years had spine surgery, shoulder surgery after dislocating my shoulder, blah blah and so on. I have also been taking Lyrica to ease the pain and an antidepressant because these things happening to me were a bit overwhelming and I thought I should be progressing quicker than I was.

    The brain zaps feel like the twanging of a rubber band to me and happens when I move my eyes to the left. It has all increased since I have come off both drugs one at a time, but gradually as well. Am so very tired all the time. Is this another exciting effect I can add to the list? I do think the drugs were of some help, but don’t want to go back on them to stop this adventure!

    Hopefully all will subside along with the zapping, nausea, dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus and weird dreams oh AND the feeling of dread going to sleep at night. Can nod off any time during the day without this feeling. Anyone else have that too? I don’t agree that we should all get up in arms about the drug companies, but it would be nice if these things were listed as side effects. Thank you all for sharing. Prue

  • Mari Lo Boström January 26, 2017, 12:48 pm

    I stopped taking Zoloft in February 2003 and am still suffering with brain zaps! Every day! 14 years!

  • Pyle January 24, 2017, 10:41 pm

    I’ve experienced these brain shocks, in one form or another, ever since I was in high school. I can remember various doctors (some psychiatrists) looking at me like I was crazy (no pun intended) when I tried to describe the “electrical zap” I felt often – usually resulting from trying to get off an antidepressant. It’s nice to know this is now a well known issue and people won’t have to go through what I went through trying to convince the “professionals” that these things are real and quite debilitating.

  • Nancy January 24, 2017, 8:37 pm

    I did a very prolonged taper off of Paxil in 1999. The brain zaps began then and have remained to this day. I’ve never done an actual count but when they’re occurring I can have at least 30 of them in a one minute period. Anxiety and lack of proper sleep seem to fuel them.

    They’re usually brain only but occasionally they run through the entire body, and the bottom of my feet will go numb for a second, which feels awful when you’re walking. I would give almost anything to get rid of them but it’s been 18 years now so I don’t feel too hopeful.

  • Kristin January 23, 2017, 2:41 am

    My brain zaps when I forget my meds are AWFUL. They last for hours when I’m trying to fall asleep and cause me to have horrific nightmares and even sleep paralysis. Some of the jolts even make my whole body jump. I feel like I slip fluidly from nightmare to wakefulness, and I wind up not knowing when I’m awake or dreaming.

    I have frequent periods of being aware, but unable to move my body, which is terrifying. The weird thing is they only feel like zaps when I’m falling asleep, but like dizzy spells when I’m awake with my eyes open… wish I could understand more about them.

  • Debbie January 22, 2017, 1:54 pm

    Hi, I stumbled onto this site searching for answers. I get brain zaps every night for about a year. Some nights are worse then others. I have never been on antidepressants so it’s not related to that. It scares me so much. I get all of the symptoms mentioned above.

    It only happens when I am going to sleep. I don’t understand what is happening. I don’t have health insurance and I’m afraid of getting the doctor run around because they have no idea. I guess I’m just reaching out because no one I know understands the hell I’ve been going through.

    • Nancy March 22, 2018, 1:49 pm

      Debbie, I stumbled here for the same reason as you. I notice that you posted over a year ago, and am wondering if you have found any solution. I am on no meds and this is happening to me off and on for the past few months, only as I begin to fall asleep … which is keeping me awake all night.

  • Joe January 21, 2017, 4:29 pm

    Have been on Gabapentin for about 7 years now for nerve pain. I was taking 300mg 2x day. The doctor upped it to 3x day. I have had multiple spine surgeries and have developed lots of scar tissue.

    My brain zaps come in waves. It’s always on the left side of my head and its really uncomfortable. I am very good about taking my meds as prescribed and on time. Anybody else have this problem. I am also on other heart meds.

  • Rachel January 21, 2017, 2:02 pm

    Oh wow, I wish I’d known about brain zaps before coming off sertraline! The drug has been amazing for me and after 6 months felt more than ready to taper down. My GP hasn’t been very good so I’ve come off this alone. I was on 100mg, reduced to 50 for a month or so, then to 25 for about 3 weeks. Then stopped.

    I thought that would be fine but had I know about the brain zaps, in hindsight I’d have done what others suggest: 25mg every other day and taper off really slowly. Have had the brain zaps for 2 days so far but they’ve rendered me pretty much useless to the point where I’m losing balance and can only really lie down! Hopefully they’ll ease before work on Monday, I’m on my feet all day and have no idea how I’ll cope!

  • Sharon January 20, 2017, 12:06 am

    I started taking medical cannibis (Indica) to treat a sleep disorder about a month ago. I have had a brain zap on a few occasions which seemed to be dependent on dose and other variables. I was on Paxil for a few years but have been off it for at least two years.

  • Bryan January 17, 2017, 7:27 am

    Wow. My doctor has called me a hypochondriac when I have tried to describe the shock sensation. Thank you for this article. I feel validated. Paxil was a gift from Hell. I take Wellbutrin, Adderall, and Zoloft. I don’t know which one causes this or if they all do.

    Missing a dose can literally put me back in bed for the day; too paranoid to try and stand. I would concur it is rather debilitating. I joke with family blaming these zapping episodes on our discussions of politicians and political news. I am graciously excused from the conspiracy topics.

    But if I really play it up I tell them my brain chip is being hacked, by China. Hold for the update. I am receiving a transmission from the White House right now. Ooops. False alarm! The SSRIs are down, transmission failed.

  • Jennifer January 16, 2017, 3:09 pm

    I have been on Citalopram for several months and eventually got to the highest dose of 40 mg. However this drug hurt my head and made my thoughts bad, so I knew I had to get off it. I gradually titrated down to 10mg and the brain zaps or as I call them mini seizures began, this sensation starts with the noise zap in my brain my eye movement control, a numbing/tingling sensation in the left side of my face and the tip of my tongue.

    Sometimes a zap with travel all the way to my feet. My friend can hear my speech slow down as my brain has a hard time with processing thoughts, and I am a jersey girl and a quick witted as one can be normally. My doctor said it’s OK to break the 10 in half and take 5 mg, every few days, the only time the zaps stop is when I take the pill at any dose, but it hurts my head and gives me bad thoughts, so a week ago I stopped completely.

    These symptoms have been relentless, I am taking fish oil, and looking into CBD oil too. I worked as a pharmaceutical rep selling venlafaxine XR for years and never once did they speak of this as a potential side effect, if they are unclear of why this happens then how could they possibly be clear on the long term effects to the brain? My mini seizures zaps are going on for over two months.

    I wonder how many people who already suffer from depression and anxiety give up all together when receiving this horrific side effect, even when they titrate down slowly. These companies should be held liable that patients come in desperate for help, then instead of being helped they become worse because of the drug. I am disgusted.

    • AS November 20, 2017, 7:09 pm

      Taking CBD. Does not seem to help with the zaps, but does make my response to them far less pervasive. Worth a try.

  • Kristi January 12, 2017, 4:54 pm

    I’ve been concerned for months that something is terribly wrong with me because I’ve had these brain zaps that come on so suddenly that they stop me in my tracks. I can be mid-sentence and my whole body freezes up while my brain feels like it’s being electrocuted for a few moments. I have noticed that my anxiety increases because of the level of pain these zaps cause.

    It also messes with my vision and causes my neck muscles to spasm/tighten. Though it doesn’t make them go away, I’m so glad to know that I’m not the only one who deals with this, and that it’s most likely not a life-threatening issue. I’m so glad to have found this website.

    I’ve been on 20mg daily fluoxetine for under two years. Does anyone notice a difference in side effects when the manufacturer of their generics changes? I am more anxious, irrational, moody, and have more of these zaps on Sandoz generic than on Venson generic.

  • Row January 2, 2017, 1:27 am

    I have been experiencing these brain zaps for almost 2 weeks during and after tapering off Cymbalta 180mg daily and beginning Pristiq tapering on from 50mg to 100mg daily. The feelings suck and I notice that fatigue accompanies the sensations. Thankfully I am staying in a mental health clinic at this point in time and see a psychiatrist twice a week. Thank you for this article, it’s definitely informative and reassuring.

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