Brain Zaps: Medication and Non-Medication Causes

A buzzing or shock-like sensation in the head

Brain zaps are brief episodes that feel like electrical or buzzing sensations in the head, which may be perceived as coming from the brain. These episodes are not dangerous. They have been given the name “brain zaps” in online social media communities.

These sudden, brief, electric shock sensations in the head are described as lasting for about two to five seconds. They are most associated with discontinuation of antidepressant medications. They can also occur as a symptom of anxiety or other conditions.

While it is unclear why they occur, the current medical literature considers brain zaps to be a symptom that does not indicate a health risk or cause harm. This article describes the symptoms, causes, and ways of coping with brain zaps.

Teenager outdoors with hands at bridge of nose
Kentaroo Tryman / Getty Images.

Multiple Causes of Brain Zaps 

The term brain zaps has been popularized in association with discontinuing antidepressant medications. However, there are some other situations where people may describe similar sensations. The sensations are not considered harmful unless accompanied by other, more serious symptoms, such as vision changes.

Potential causes of brain zap sensations include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Bad dreams
  • Migraines
  • Hearing loss

Symptoms: How Brain Zaps Feel

The sensory experience of brain zaps has been described in online communities. Additionally, some research has examined the symptoms and their implications, using participant-directed questionnaires collected and analyzed to determine how people experience the sensations.

Descriptions include:

  • Brief electrical shocks in the head
  • Vibrations experienced as occurring inside the head
  • A sense of momentary disconnection from alertness
  • Dizziness
  • A jolt sensation
  • A brief popping or zapping sound

Triggered by Movement

One of the observations associated with brain zaps is that people who responded to the questionnaires reported that the brain zaps were often triggered by moving the head or the eyes from side to side.

What’s Happening During Brain Zaps?

Brain zaps are not a medical emergency, and they are not seizures. Abruptly stopping antidepressant medication is one of the most well-recognized causes, but many people experience brain zaps even when antidepressant medications are stopped gradually.

Abrupt discontinuation of antidepressants can cause a condition described as antidepressant withdrawal. Sometimes brain zaps can occur with other signs of antidepressant withdrawal, such as headaches, tiredness, dizziness, and trouble sleeping.


The exact biological cause of brain zaps is not well understood. Most antidepressants work by increasing the amount or activity of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger between nerves) that regulates mood.

Additionally, antidepressants affect other neurotransmitters, although the effect on other neurotransmitters is not as substantial as their effect on serotonin.

One of the leading theories about the biology of brain zaps when they’re associated with antidepressant discontinuation is that they could be the result of the sensitivity of individuals or due to the down-regulation of serotonin receptors or other neurotransmitters.

Similar Symptoms in MS

Brain zaps are not the same as the tingling people experience due to multiple sclerosis, such as Lhermitte's sign, an electrical shock-like sensation that runs down the spine. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis are caused by changes in the brain or spinal cord, whereas brain zaps are not associated with any anatomical or structural changes.

How to Stop Brain Zaps 

In general, brain zaps are not usually chronic. When they occur in association with antidepressant discontinuation, they may last for about two to eight weeks. When they occur in association with another cause, such as migraines or fatigue, they are expected to resolve when the precipitating factor improves.

Some of the medical literature suggests that restarting antidepressant medication or starting a new antidepressant medication could help alleviate brain zaps. But medical guidance for treatment would typically prioritize managing symptoms of depression and avoiding medication side effects and safety over treatment of brain zaps.

There is some research suggesting that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements might help alleviate brain zaps, but the results are not consistent, and there is not a well-established dose.

Talking to a Healthcare Provider About Brain Zaps 

If you are experiencing concerning symptoms and have recognized your sensations as brain zaps, you may be concerned enough to want to discuss it with your healthcare provider. It is certainly a good idea to talk about your health concerns with your healthcare provider.

However, because brain zaps are not a medical diagnosis and are more of a description popularized on social media, your healthcare provider might not be familiar with this term and would not use this terminology as a diagnosis. 

When describing your symptoms, try to note the timing, frequency, duration, triggers, and relieving factors. Additionally, please note any other symptoms you may be experiencing at the same time as the brain zaps or that may have started around the same time you began to notice brain zaps.

Medical Evaluation

Depending on whether you are also experiencing other symptoms, your healthcare provider may consider other causes. When people have medical concerns they see described on social media, this is not enough for a verified medical diagnosis.

Your healthcare provider will likely ask about other symptoms, including:

  • Changes in consciousness
  • Weakness
  • Tingling of the extremities
  • Vision changes
  • Pain

These other symptoms are concerning and raise the possibility of a medical diagnosis that would require further evaluation and medical treatment.


Brain zaps are brief events of an electric shock-like sensation in the head that last for seconds at a time. They can occur frequently, multiple times per day, every few days, or even less often. They are associated with discontinuing antidepressant medications but can also occur due to anxiety, headaches, or other conditions.

While brain zaps are not concerning, you should talk to your healthcare provider if you're experiencing any symptoms that are bothering you. It unsafe to assume that your brain zaps are occurring due to medication discontinuation. You will need to talk to your healthcare provider about any other symptoms.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stockmann T, Odegbaro D, Timimi S, Moncrieff J. SSRI and SNRI withdrawal symptoms reported on an internet forum. Int J Risk Saf Med. 2018;29(3-4):175-180. doi:10.3233/JRS-180018

  2. Papp A, Onton JA. Triggers and characteristics of brain zaps according to the findings of an Internet questionnaire. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2022;24(1):21m02972. doi:10.4088/PCC.21m02972

  3. Papp A, Onton JA. Brain zaps: an underappreciated symptom of antidepressant discontinuation. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2018;20(6):18m02311. doi:10.4088/PCC.18m02311

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.