There is an unpleasant phenomenon, colloquially known as "brain zaps". It is generally associated with withdrawal from antidepressants, but this isn't always the trigger - I sometimes have it even though I've taken my mess that day.

I don't like referring to something so unpleasant and uncomfortable by such a silly name. Is there a proper medical term for this phenomenon?

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    $\begingroup$ Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome might be what you're looking for. It is also known as SSRI withdrawal. Other colloquial (yet less-silly) terms for them would be 'head shocks' or 'electrical shocks'. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2015 at 6:25

2 Answers 2


Short answer
Brain zaps are a colloquial term for certain symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.

'Brain zaps' are associated with sudden shakes, or vibrations, tremors, jolts, electric shocks, or 'zaps' of the head and/or brain. As SydneyMaples rightfully commented, these are scientifically recognized as symptoms of

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, or Antidepressant withdrawal syndrome

Withdrawal from a wide range of antidepressants, including the tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can produce somatic and psychological distress, influenza-like syndromes, gastrointestinal adverse effects, arrhythmias, anxiety, sleep disturbances, movement disorders, mania or hypomania, panic attacks and delirium (Lejoyeux et al., 1996).

- Lejoyeux et al. CNS Drugs (1996); 5(4): 278–92


I don't like referring to something so unpleasant and uncomfortable by such a silly name. Is there a proper medical term for this phenomenon?

In the literature, they're referred to as shock-like paresthesias and less commonly, Lhermitte's sign (pronounced Ler-meets).

However, the phenomenology of Lhermitte's sign is a little bit different to brain zaps and is typically seen in multiple sclerosis.

From The SSRI discontinuation syndrome:

$ \require{color} \hspace{0.5cm}Sensory\text{ }abnormalities.\text{These include paraesthesia (i.e.}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{tingling) and numbness, also described with TCA discon-}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{tinuation but less prominent, and brief ’electric shock-like’}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{sensations which appear unique to SSRI and venlafaxine}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{termination (Louie et al., 1996). The shocks may be}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{experienced as ’electrical sensations’ (Rosenstock, 1996)}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{running through the head, upper body, arms or legs or as}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{intense internal sensations within the head, for example a}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{’slamming’ within the head (Mallya et al., 1993), a ’whooshing}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{noise’ or a ’rush’ one could ’almost hear’ (Berlin, 1996).}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{Sometimes they are exacerbated by movement, particularly of}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{the head, and are associated with brief bursts of dizziness}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{(Frost and Lal, 1995). Ellison’s (1993) description of bursts of}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{dizziness as a ’jolt’, ’rush’, ’shock’, or ’buzz’ also suggests an}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{overlap between shocks and dizziness.} \colorbox{yellow}{Coupland et al. (1996)}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{regarded the shocks as a severe form of paraesthesia and}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{emphasized that they were distinct from anything patients had}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{experienced before.}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{Shocks have occurred following discontinuation from}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{sertraline (Rosenstock, 1996), paroxetine (Frost and Lal,}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{1995; Dominguez and Goodnick, 1996), fluoxetine (Berlin,}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\text{1996) and fluvoxamine (Mallya et al., 1993).} \colorbox{yellow}{Reeves and}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{Pinkofsky (1996) reported a paroxetine discontinuation}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{reaction in which shocks were consistently elicited by neck}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{flexion. They proposed that the sensations constituted}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{Lhermitte’s sign i.e. a neurological sign that usually indicates}\\ \hspace{0.5cm}\colorbox{yellow}{spinal cord disease.}\\ $


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