Antidepressant medications can be very helpful in getting a person through a really difficult time. But are patients warned before they start such medicines, especially SSRI drugs, that they might have a hard time stopping? Here are stories from a few different readers who had trouble with sertraline withdrawal.
Sertraline Withdrawal Symptoms Feel Like Electric Shocks:
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?
Brain Zaps from Sertraline Withdrawal:
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. Keep in mind that you are not alone. Other patients have had similar difficulties.
Another Reader Reports Trouble with Sertraline Withdrawal:
Q. I quit sertraline after nine years and suffered horrendous withdrawal symptoms: nausea, brain zaps, vertigo, headaches, digestive problems and numbness and tingling in my hands, feet and face.
I’m writing to let others know that withdrawal does get better, even on days when you think you cannot possibly survive one more hour of feeling so sick. If I had known at the start what it would take to wean off this antidepressant, I would never have taken it.
The symptoms were horrible for a full two weeks. The third week, I felt a bit better each day, and after that I improved quickly. I still have an occasional brain zap or wave of vertigo, but for the most part I’m back to normal. My sex drive, energy levels and mood have all improved tremendously.
Getting Off Antidepressants:
A. Many antidepressants such as duloxetine (Cymbalta), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor) can trigger unpleasant symptoms if discontinued abruptly. Patients should be warned about this complication. Neither the manufacturers nor the FDA offer doctors much guidance on how to help their patients phase off such drugs gradually.
Thanks for sharing your experience. We hope others won’t have to suffer as much as you have. Those who prefer natural approaches to depression may wish to listen to our helpful interview on Mental Health Naturally with Dr. Tieraona Low Dog of the University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Center.
A systematic review of this topic concluded that doctors are minimizing the seriousness of these symptoms when they use the terminology “discontinuation syndrome” (Fava et al, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Feb. 21, 2015). Instead, they should refer more directly to sertraline withdrawal.
Revised Dec. 14, 2017