Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brain zaps: they're not a myth

They're called brain zaps, brain shivers, or brain shocks, but when I began having them, I thought I was the only one who'd ever experienced them. My doctor certainly didn't warn me about them, I suspect for the simple reason that he doesn't know about them. Either that or he doesn't believe in them, which wouldn't surprise me a bit.

In turns out brain zaps are one of the myriad of withdrawal symptoms people experience when they try to get off an anti-depressant such as Effexor. According to a short article at Wikipedia, "phenomenon is most commonly associated with paroxetine (Paxil, Seroxat), fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), sertraline (Zoloft), duloxetine (Cymbalta), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro)".

I started taking Effexor, an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant six years ago. Since then, I went through the big M (menopause) and felt that my life, my body, and my emotions had gone through a lot of changes due to all this hormonal roller-coaster I was for a month. In hindsight, I'd probably been on that ride for a lot longer but with my doctor telling me I was more than likely anxiety disorder (my mother also suffers from it) than perimenopause symptoms, I took the drug.

This year, however, after deciding I hadn't felt "myself" for too long I decided, with my doctor's knowledge and approval, to reduce and then quit taking Effexor. I was taking 300mg, the prescribed dosage for anxiety when I started.

Unfortunately, I can't remember when I started weaning myself off it. But I can remember shaking uncontrollably especially in the afternoons for a long, long time. Silly me, I never associated it with cutting down on Effexor.

Three weeks ago, I decided to go off it completely, from 75mg to zero. Again, because I hadn't been warned of side effects, I didn't associate what I was feeling with quitting Effexor. Finally I added two and twenty and came up with four. Thanks to the internet, I now know that I haven't been the only one suffering from the collection of horrible symptoms I've been suffering from. So I decided to add my two cents to what my own withdrawal symptoms are (apparently I can expect some, like brain zaps, to last maybe two months or longer) and how I've been coping with them (which is not very well).

  • brain zaps: think of an electric current that "zaps" through your brain or between your brain and your skull, followed by about 10 seconds of dizziness and disorientation. They've been compared to epilepsy. How I cope: I stop and wait until the world re-establishes itself. It's worse in the afternoon, so I'll lie down for a half hour or so.
  • nausea and vomiting: I was beginning to think that I was building an intolerance to alcohol (those couple of glasses of wine sure packed a punch) since I would get up with nausea in the morning. How I cope: throw up, rinse your mouth, brush your teeth, and take half a Gravol.
  • the shakes: they could be so bad sometimes I couldn't even type (not a good thing for a writer). How I cope: copious amount of water which seem to help me. I always feel dehydrated.
  • numb lips and fingers: it was getting so bad that I thought maybe I was having a heart attack or something of the sort. It's now much better. How I cope: not much to do in that case.
  • tinnitus: sometimes it sounds like a tuba is playing in my ear. It's a whoa-whoa kind of sound and it drowns everything else. How I cope: Listen to my music with earphones. It may be one evil for the other, but at least they're sounds I like.
  • diarrhea: man, this one is a pain in the... well you know. It's not pleasant, especially when it comes out both ends. How I cope: Let it all out, stay close to a bathroom, preferably in your own house.
  • sweating: in my case, cold sweats, as opposed to the furnace-like hot flashes of the big M. How I cope: I keep a warm sweater or a wrap close by and wrap or shed as needed. As soon as I'm wet through, I change.
The official Effexor site does address some of these very briefly, stating that they can happen if you stop taking it too fast. From all the forums I read, this isn't quite the case. With each drop in dosage you experience the same withdrawal symptoms, whether you take a year or the next six to go back to zero. In fact, many people were so ill from cutting back or stopping that they went back to taking it.

Not me. I'm through with it. I've begun researching alternative methods to curtail my anxiety disorder: a Litebook in winter to help with the low level of sunlight; dietary changes, including lots of Omega 3; exercise.

These symptoms I've had for nearly a year, now that I know what they are, scare the bejeezus out of me. I have only one brain, for goodness sake, and I can't exchange it. Not yet anyway. I may have to go the chemical route in the future again but before I take anything like that, I want to be able to say that I've tried everything else first.

Gotta go lie dow, now, my brain zaps are getting worse.

26 comments:

Gloria Oliver said...

Holy CRAP! Glad you at least found out what it was. Eek!

Sara said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm trying to get off celexa but I have to keep taking it because I cannot tolerate the side effects. Dizziness, diarrhea, horrible hot/cold flashes (so I have to change my clothes halfway through the day) and awful electric zaps. I'm appalled
to know that your symptoms have lasted a whole year. I've only just begun!

t said...

i am getting off my effexor without my dr. i started almost 3 weeks ago i am usually on 225 so i just stopped taking the 75mg at nite. of course i went a bit insane,super manic and got extremly wasted almost everynight to get rid of headaches.
i went to the health food store and got omega 3 6 9 and take 2 huge tablespoons one in the morning one at night and then i found this stuff malic acid and i take it three to four times a day. i feel much better but every so often i get overemotional and a bit manic.
i started taking klonopin to relax and smoking a bit of pot.i have to say it has been not even close to how bad it was the first time i tried i didn't last a week off them

Ms. Porter said...

I was on effexor for about a year and a half, and now I'm weaning off of it altogether. It did help me immensely during a very stressful time in my life but the way I feel right now makes me regret having taken it in the first place. I'm searching the internet for ways to cope with the withdrawal symptoms of effexor. I feel terribe...I've felt terrible since I started taking it but that is another story altogether. I feel very afraid that there doesn't seem to be anything to curb these feelings, I have two young children (2 and 4) and I can't feel this way for long. I'm only three days without any effexor and struggling so much with the brain zaps.

don72 said...

I have been plagued with dizziness and brain zaps (feels like I put my brain into an electrical socket) since my late 20’s. I am now 72. Fortunately, the zaps are only instantaneous though the effects last for several hours (probably a nervous reaction caused by the not knowing what is happening).
The only medication I have taken for the condition was 2.5 mg valium prescribed by an ear specialist. Took that until my early 30’s but it didn’t seem to have any value. I have been seen by a couple of neurologists, several ear specialists, an endocrinologist, different types of eye specialists, psychiatrist, dentist to check for mercury poisoning, tried bio-feedback, went to Mayo Clinic where the diagnosis was “don’t know what you have, but it is not life threatening”. By eliminating caffeine and alcohol, the incidence of dizziness has dramatically improved. I have since gone back to one glass of wine before dinner.

Doesn’t provide any solution for you, but know that you aren’t alone.

Daniel said...

If you are a victim of minor depression, it is possible for you to get rid of it with little effort but once you fall prey to serious depression, it may become altogether impossible to tackle this disorder without opting for medications. And among the medicines available in the market to treat depression, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, Xanax and Zoloft are highly popular.

Anonymous said...

I'm 16 and i started taking 50mg of fluvoxamine when i was 15. I didn't have any bad side effects at all. I was off the pills for about a 9-10 month period. Recently i've started taking them again, but now i can't pee. It hurts, and only a little comes out. My first though is obviously an infection, which makes sence. But i can't take any of the medication that my dr. would give me for it because of the fluvoxamine.
I've told my mom, but i don't have an apointment.

Anonymous said...

I'm 16 and i started taking 50mg of fluvoxamine when i was 15. I didn't have any bad side effects at all. I was off the pills for about a 9-10 month period. Recently i've started taking them again, but now i can't pee. It hurts, and only a little comes out. My first though is obviously an infection, which makes sence. But i can't take any of the medication that my dr. would give me for it because of the fluvoxamine.
I've told my mom, but i don't have an apointment.

Anonymous said...

I'm 16 and i started taking 50mg of fluvoxamine when i was 15. I didn't have any bad side effects at all. I was off the pills for about a 9-10 month period. Recently i've started taking them again, but now i can't pee. It hurts, and only a little comes out. My first though is obviously an infection, which makes sence. But i can't take any of the medication that my dr. would give me for it because of the fluvoxamine.
I've told my mom, but i don't have an apointment.

Anonymous said...

I'm 16 and i started taking 50mg of fluvoxamine when i was 15. I didn't have any bad side effects at all. I was off the pills for about a 9-10 month period. Recently i've started taking them again, but now i can't pee. It hurts, and only a little comes out. My first though is obviously an infection, which makes sence. But i can't take any of the medication that my dr. would give me for it because of the fluvoxamine.
I've told my mom, but i don't have an apointment.

Caryn said...

Thank you so much for this blog. This is about 4 years later since you've posted it, and I'm experiencing PRECISELY what you have described.

I was on 300mg and weaned myself off it completely in the span of 4 1/2 months. I just took my last dose a couple days ago - and I'm still having every symptom listed. I thought perhaps it was drinking, or marijuana, but I know that its beyond the simpler intoxicants. Its complex, and painful.

I'm so glad we can get through this.

Sheldon G. Carlough said...

Chorella helps take heavy metals out of the body. Maybe you could try to detox while you are withdrawing from the medication. If you can flush it from your system maybe you'll have less side effects with a shorter duration.

Jonathan said...

Oh my god, i finally found out what has beej happening to me as soon as i miss a dosage of medicine!!!! Its these brain zaps and nobody knew what the hell i was talking about, i am so releaved i found out about the name of this, i get them so bad, started takin celexa at age 17, im now 29, but most recently started taking fluoxetine, 20mg, it works ok, celexa 60mg juss wasnt working anymore, the withdrawl from changing pills was absolutely horrible, sometimes intolerable, im glad i read this....Im not alone thank god, the gift and the curse, is what i like to call these medicines....

Zoloft Birth Defects said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Feeling so much less alone now...!
Trying to come off a cocktail of drugs and these brain zaps... it's the strangest feeling! Everyone thinks I'm imagining things or I'm just tired or dehydrated - I'm sure the insomnia doesn't help, but it's yet another side effect to cope with! Napping frequently seems to be helping.

It was really helpful to hear how you cope as well, I've been having a good portion of the same problems but logic seems to be beyond me.

Where would we be without the internet??

Anonymous said...

I have been on Cipralex for about 4 months. I moved and couldn't find my pills (it's been 3 days). Today I was sitting in my office trying to focus, but it felt like my brain was twitching. My eyes felt funny and my body would twitch occasionally with the brain zaps. I went to the doctor right away and he said that sometimes happens when you go off suddenly. Thank god. I thought something was really wrong with me. He told me I should start feeling better in a day or two. I'm not ready to come off them, but now I'm really nervous when I eventually will go off them.

Anonymous said...

Hello - I'm a herbalist working in the natural health biz and I'm one of many who were ignorant of the side effects of SSRI's. A customer came in and enlightened me about her symptoms in trying to stop taking these drugs. After a good conversation, we came to the conclusion she should try taking magnesium malate - which she purchased.
She returned only days ago to share with me how thrilled she was with the outcome of using that product.
I had been reading from the website of Dr. Mark Sircus(www.magnesiumforlife.com)where I learned important info about the significant part magnesium plays in our lives and also remembered reading that one of the side-effects of some drugs is that they may leach minerals from the body.
Magnesium,it turns out, is a macro mineral of great importance in over 350 biochemical actions in the body. I highly recommend checking out his information.
All the Best to you! KT

Anonymous said...

Isn't it weird that just knowing someone else is experiencing the same thing as you are, is a relief? I have been on Effexor for 17 yrs!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Talk about a guinea pig! I had tried Prozax for my depression after a horrendous divorce (who's isn't?), but I had a side effect that would probably have killed me (800 bruises,no exageration, a week after beginning Prozax). So the very 'smart Psychologist and Medical Doctor' prescribe me Effexor, new on the market. It did indeed pull me out of my depression, along with meeting my second husband about the same time. I went all the way down to 37.5mg a day after my second marriage.................until he showed his infidelity and his son, 18, decided he needed to get a sex change. So after 3 years of hemming and hawing, husband #2 and I divorced. I continued on Effexor although always wanted to discontinue, but life just kept throwing me curve balls. I hit menopause, as well as my own mother deciding that after me running our family business for 17 yrs, I only deserved 1/3 of my income. AND to top that off I suddenly had an empty nest. At that time I started with ear ringing, then brain zapping, then major depression.............do I have any more tears yet to cry??? It has now been 5 years since the ear ringing, vomiting and brain zaps. I 'gave up' and turned to alcohol and drugs............which ended me up in rehab 3 times in the past 2 years. I couldn't have ever imagined my life ending up this way! I HATE EFFEXOR!!! I have lost friends, family, money, dignity, a job, a happy life! Sorry but I have no answers to this but my prayers are with all of us who suffer!

Anonymous said...

I was on effexor 75mg to for about a year, I did the stupid thing and went cold turkey off them, did it a couple of times by acciden aswell. The worst part for me was the zaps because parts of my body would jolt with them.

The tuba thing I got similiar aswell as paranoia, that was really fun.

cold sweats were crap and my emotions went into rapid swing.

Ever notice when on effexor you can drink 6 drinks and feel like youve drank 24.

Anonymous said...

I am comming off meth.. never been on anti depresants. My brain has
been zapping for days . I feel like its going to cause me to have a
stroke ... I am freaking out. I never heard of brain zaps but I am
scared to go to sleep because of this electronic like zapping in my
brain every minute or so. I told my husband and brother. They think I
am crazy. I was on meth for years. been clean for 5 years. Then I had
this 5 day relapse. I have been Miserable for 3 days coming off it
now. NEVER Before has my body done something like these electric
sounds/jolts in my brain... non stop.....
HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

kdog said...

Hi. Just a little friendly advice. I had to help my husband through wthdrawal off of lexapro. It got worse when he tried to cope with diazepam (same family as klonopin). These class of drugs are very easy to get accidently addicted to. You wont even know that your body has become dependenr until you try to come off or you develope tolerance and need to increase the dose. Also, dependency can set in in a very short period of time. My husband was only on it for a week. Then things rapidly wentdown hill when he stopped.
I recommend reading www.theroadback.com they explain withdrawal very clearly and can help by setting a withdrawal program that minimizes the side effects.
Goodluck and cheers.

Anonymous said...

Hi. hang in there. You will be fine. Check out www.theroadback.com they can provide info on drug withdrawal. I had a family member who recovered from drug withdrawal and is noe fine. But it took some time :)

Gilly Ruth said...

Hi there, I too have experienced brain zaps, even when I haven't been on meds or weaning off, which can be disconcerting to say the least. Magnesium malate seems to be a safe option to help while cutting down on caffeine. I imagine it is the brain's way of readjusting and not a cause for concern. That said, it is freaky when it happens, especially when alone and trying to get over to sleep. The stress and anxiety of not knowing what's happening seems to make it worse. I find getting up, making a cuppa then going back to bed is better than lying in bed anxious. Lessening the stimulus on the brain for a few days may also help.

MrGamma said...

They are very real, only it's like a rippling electric sensation, or yawning which itches like an orgasm. Another sensation is ASMR which I find to be very pleasant.

Apeetha said...

I am having trouble, too. From weakness and brain zaps to disorientation and spinning of the head! (not just dizzy, but the entire whoosh-whoosh-whoosh spin)


Heartening to see people writing about it! Depression was evil. My medicine did me good. Now that I am well (not depressed), the medicine in itself has become my pain!

M. D. Benoit said...

Sometimes the cure is worse than the illness.