What It Means When You Feel Electrical Zaps In Your Brain

Growing up, seeing a television cartoon character get zapped in the brain with a lightning bolt usually meant that they'd been struck with a bright idea. In real life, however, the feeling of an electrical zap in the brain can be scary and debilitating in the moment.

A person may experience the sensation of a short electrical current firing through their brain, a buzzing noise, dizziness, and disorientation, among other symptoms. Brain zaps often come on suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere. "The way I would describe my experience of a brain zap is that it was as if my brain was an old computer and my power supply had suddenly been yanked out," one person stated in an interview with Women's Health.

Although the exact cause of brain zaps isn't entirely clear, some research has drawn a link between these sensations and the discontinuation of certain medications, specifically antidepressants.

Brain zaps may be a side effect of stopping antidepressant usage

Researchers from a 2018 study published in The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders documented nearly 600 online posts made to a mental health website over the course of two years written by various people who had experienced brain zaps. After breaking down the posts into 648 different statements referencing antidepressant usage in association with symptoms, 378 statements were specific to discontinuation of their medications.

The study findings revealed that venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva, Paxil CR) were most often reported in association with brain zap symptoms after stopping usage. The researchers theorized that brain zaps were most likely withdrawal symptoms related to ceasing antidepressant medication usage cold turkey. However, progressively reducing one's dosage over time provided only partial relief.

In addition, the study team also found a relationship between brain zaps and moving one's eyes from side to side. For most people, brain zaps were short-lived, while for a small number of individuals, symptoms were ongoing and hindered quality of life.

What is exploding head syndrome?

Brian Sharpless, assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University, told the BBC that feelings of electrical sensations caused by a sudden spike in brain activity may be a symptom of a lesser-known health condition known as exploding head syndrome. The condition is primarily associated with auditory hallucinations, in which a person hears a loud sound as the body shifts from wakefulness to sleep. The sound is often described as similar to an explosion or gunshot. However, Sharpless explains that for some people, these sounds may be preceded by feelings of an electrical current traveling from the lower torso to the head. That being said, more scientific research is needed on the condition.

People experiencing brain zaps are advised to speak with their doctor. If you take antidepressants and are planning to discontinue treatment, work with your healthcare provider in developing a plan to slowly taper off the medication, as doing so may lower your chances of experiencing brain zaps. According to Medical News Today, some people say they have found some level of relief with the use of certain supplements, including B-complex vitamins, omega-3s, and magnesium. Just be sure to consult with your physician beforehand.