Q. I am 28 years old and I have taken sertraline for five years to treat panic attacks. My doctor recently suggested I could stop taking sertraline because I’m doing so much better.

I tapered the dose down gradually for a month. Five days before stopping sertraline completely, I have noticed strange electric shock sensations in my lips and behind my ears. I feel my heartbeat in my head. Is this normal for someone going off sertraline? Should I continue with the plan, or do I need to take sertraline again?

A. Others have described electric shock sensations, also called “brain zaps,” upon stopping sertraline (Zoloft) and similar antidepressants. Additional symptoms of withdrawal include dizziness, headaches, anxiety, nausea, tremor and lack of energy.

Please let your doctor know how you are feeling. You may need to taper your dose even more gradually.

If you need more information about the pros and cons of antidepressants and the difficulties that may accompany withdrawal, we suggest our Guide to Dealing with Depression.

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  1. Kthln
    Reply

    I suffer from major depressive disorder and would be dead without taking antidepressants. I know this, because twice I stopped (no health insurance, no money to pay full price) and the effects were gradual, but horrid.
    Yeah, the head zaps were weird. They lasted about a week and I was lucky, as I was able to tolerate them. What I couldn’t do on my own was conquer major depression. I have been on 100 mg (down from 200 mg) of Zoloft for the last year.
    Along with one-on-one therapy with a psychologist, attending 2 different support groups, practicing meditation and doing tai chi, I am worlds better. But I do not discount the medication.
    I tried all of these therapies without medication and while they were of some assistance they did not stop the complete lack of appetite, continual crying, middle of the night insomnia and racing heartbeat as well as waking every morning at 4am feeling empty, bleak and so indescribably sad. Some of us are wired differently and need it. I would be lost without it.

  2. Jean
    Reply

    I took Sertraline for 9 years for severe claustrophobia. I was doing really well, with the symptoms almost 0. So with my doctors help, I weaned off, but took a year to do it. Since it was a slow process, I had no adverse affects. I don’t need nor do I have any desire to go back on it or any other drug for that condition. The only drugs I take are for Blood Pressure and Diabetes.
    Good Luck. Hope this helps.
    Jean

  3. KMF
    Reply

    Boy do I feel for you. Years ago I stopped taking Zoloft, I too took it before anyone really knew about the “Brain Zaps”. I’ll never forget it. The first time I had the Zap, I thought I was having a stroke. I told my Dr and he sent me to the hospital, thought it was a stroke. But after about 4 weeks of hell. They slowly stopped. Only years later what the cause was..

  4. C.L.Q.
    Reply

    I had the same thing happen, and the “brain zaps” continued on occasion for many weeks. I had to taper my dosing very slowly until I was off Sertraline. It took a few weeks…I got through it just fine, even though the “brain zaps” were weird.

  5. DCwriter
    Reply

    Years ago I stopped taking Zoloft, like the reader here. This was before the medical profession recognized the horrible withdrawal problems (some still don’t, or downplay it). Tapering was not even suggested. I thought I was going crazy. Every time I moved my head I had an “electrical zap” throughout my skull, plus other problems. Even though today I could probably benefit from an antidepressant, I refuse to go on them because they are hell to get off of. Docs don’t seem to understand my reluctance. They haven’t had the pleasure of that nightmare withdrawal!

  6. JA
    Reply

    I am having the same problem with paroxetine. In addition, I have epilepsy and often feel like I’m going to seize when I taper down. I went right back on the full dose and am speaking to my doctor very soon.

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