What Are Brain Zaps: The Risks of Antidepressant Withdrawal

When someone says “brain zaps,” electric shocks are probably the first thing that comes to mind. While that might be a good description of what brain zaps feel like for some people, it’s not entirely accurate. So, what are brain zaps, and what causes them? Let’s take a closer look.

Learn in This Article

  • What Are Brain Zaps
  • Causes of Brain Zaps
  • What Do Brain Zaps Feel Like
  • Symptoms of Brain Zaps
  • How to Prevent Brain Zaps
  • What to Do If You Experience a Brain Zap

What Are Brain Zaps

In short, brain zaps often occur due to SSRI medication withdrawal or reduced dosage. Brain zaps typically occur when someone abruptly stops taking a medication that affects serotonin levels.

Individuals with brain zaps often experience uncomfortable sensations in their brain and neck, very similar to the feeling of getting an electric shock. 

Causes of Brain Zaps

When it comes to brain zaps, the causes of these sensations are still not clear. However, it’s certain that these zaps can result in brain chemistry and neurotransmitter changes. In fact, sudden discontinuation of antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and other types of medication can cause reduced serotonin levels.

What Do Brain Zaps Feel Like

Many people who have experienced brain zaps describe them as electric shocks. Some say they feel like a jolt of electricity that starts in the head and then travels down the spine. Others report a brief, sharp pain in the head, similar to getting poked with a needle.

In some cases, people say they feel like their head is “buzzing” or “ringing.” Some people with brain zaps say they’re accompanied by flashes of light or colors.

Symptoms of Brain Zaps

Some common brain zaps symptoms include anxiety, nausea, headaches, fatigue, visual changes, and tremors.

In severe cases, they can lead to seizure-like activity. While brain zaps are not dangerous, they can be highly uncomfortable. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, it’s important to get professional help immediately.

How to Prevent Brain Zaps

While brain zaps are not generally harmful, there’s no available treatment. Not to mention, it can be disruptive and may make it difficult to continue with medication treatment.

However, not all hope is lost. There are a few things that can help prevent brain zaps. First, it’s important to come off the medication gradually rather than stop suddenly. Although this doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t experience brain zaps, it can help the body get used to the withdrawal of a specific medication.

What to Do If You Experience a Brain Zap

If you experience a brain zap, you can do a few things to help ease the sensation. First, try to relax and breathe deeply. This can help slow down your heart rate and reduce stress. Second, close your eyes and massage your temples gently to improve circulation and relieve tension.

Finally, try to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day. If brain zaps persist or become severe, it’s important to consult a doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

Key Takeaways

  • Brain zaps are electric shock-like sensations that can occur in the head and are often described as a feeling of sudden, brief jolts or neurological “flickers.”
  • People with brain zaps are tapering off or discontinuing antidepressant medications, but they can also occur in other situations.
  • Common symptoms of antidepressant withdrawal can cause headaches, ringing in the ears, nausea, and dizziness. In severe cases, they can lead to seizure-like events. 
  • Tapering off medication can help prevent brain zaps, as well as staying well-hydrated and exercising regularly.
  • Although there’s no remedy for brain zaps, you can relax and breathe deeply, close your eyes, and massage your temples gently.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are brain zaps dangerous?

Now that we know what brain zaps are, you might want to know how severe they are. While brain zaps are often harmless, they can be pretty upsetting and sometimes even painful. However, for most people, brain zaps are nothing to worry about and will eventually go away on their own.

How long do brain zaps last?

Brain zaps typically last from a millisecond to a few seconds at a time but can occasionally last for minutes or even hours. However, some people may experience them for much more extended periods of time.

Are brain zaps seizures?

Technically, no. In most severe cases, people with brain zaps can lead to a seizure. However, brain zaps and seizures are not the same. 
In fact, seizures are characterized by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Brain zaps, on the other hand, don’t appear to involve abnormal brain activity. Some experts believe that brain zaps may be related to changes in neurotransmitter levels.