The People's Perspective on Medicine

Sertraline Withdrawal Symptoms Make Stopping the Drug Difficult

Sensations of electric shock, dizziness and headaches can make sertraline withdrawal challenging, but it is possible to reduce the dose gradually.

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

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Myself starting on sertraline because I developed hyperthyroidism. Doctor started me on 25 mg and things were really good for 2 yrs . Then I wanted to finally get off them and felt terrible. So I went back on cutting in half so I was only at 12.5 for a couple weeks. I tried stopping again after lowering dose and I feel awful still. I think this drug Awful. I hate that it has a hold on me like a prisoner. I’m disappointed and angry I feel like I’m losing control

Hi I feel the same way. I quit Effexor and it has been 3 months and I still have brain and face numbness. I had tongue cancer and they put me on this poison. If I had known I would have all this trouble I would not have taken it. The irritability is still strong. After stopping the meds I started have chills, fever,high blood pressure and rapid heart beats. I will be glad when this headand face numbness goes. I thought I was going to have to go to the mental hospital. God Bless you all.

I just started taking half tablet for a week and am experiencing neither happy or sad. Am kind of like a zombie. Also, experience severe indigestion. I don’t know if I could get any side effects from not taking it anymore or just taking a half tablet. If anyone can help, I could use some. Thanks.

I have been taking Sertraline for 6 years, however at 72 I met a lady and was having problems responding to her sexually. Recently i have had abdominal pain and lose stools. It is very painful, so tonight I have started the Sertraline again. I have also stopped nsaids. My memory is failing, and I am having balance issues. I don’t know if any of this is related.

I worked in psych for 30 years (inpatient units), and one of the main reasons for an admission was to “wean” the patient off SSRI’s, the withdrawals were that horrible and dangerous. I’m slightly depressed and about half manic, but I thank god(dess) my symptoms aren’t so severe that I need to resort to taking those meds. For anyone who does,well, my heart goes out to you, and I wish you all the luck and fortitude in the world. Cheers from Seattle.

I take 50 mg Zoloft and 150 mg. Welbutrin….I have chronic depression….tried to stop Zoloft but found I cannot be without it. I used to take Cymbalta for two years….decided to taper off due to weight gain. I had to take the capsules apart and count the beads down until I was done…..took several months to do this…still had the brain zaps for awhile after stopping this med. The worst antidepressant to wean off of in my opinion. God bless you all.

Hi All,

I was on Sertaline 100 mg (at first twice a day and was zombie like just always sleeping. )I complained to my doctor and we brought it to once a day same dosage. I am on two other meds for other reasons. I suggested to my dr. To stop taking sertraline , who was hesitant but complied. I began tapering off from 100, 50 etc. experiencing all sorts of crazy symptoms.. dizzy all day every day, insomnia, irritability and now crying spells over every little thing. I’ve been off for almost two months.. not to mention extreme anxiety. Its no fun and I hate it but I ,like others just can’t be stuck on meds for life and looking for holistic replacements. Hope this helps anyone going through it all. Thanks

Hi guys,
I am taking ZOLOFT for 8 years, 100 mg. For the last three months I have zap in my brain. I didn’t stop Zoloft, so what do you think?

I have been taken, Sertraline for years, maybe 10 or more, I just read about all the side effects of this medicine today. I stopped this medicine about two weeks ago. not knowing that there would be any withdrawal problems at all. I did feel those electrical currents type things , hitting my brain left and right, getting angry at a heart beat, in the bathroom often, and thru the night, bloated stomach, letting off gas thru the night, heart felt like missing a beat, every once and a while, sweating, tired, sleeping all the time. Do not want any phone calls, and no one talking to me, even my dogs make me mad and can not stand them.

I knew it had to be getting off this medicine, must lock my self at home, for a few more days, and see no one, until I am over it. Did not know it would be this bad, and would have never have taken it. Now understand drug people and their attempt to dry out. I needed help for a while could not live with my past mistakes, and loss, but can now deal with it by faith in God. Will never return to this medication, but each day I nearly went back to it, because it was so painful each moment to get over it, nervous, sick, shaking, blood pressure up, face puffed up when I bent over, like head was about to explode. I would not wish it on anyone. Never give up, there is a better day, trust in God, to be free , we must fight.

Antidepressants can quit working and result in withdrawal symptoms that are the same as they would be if the person quit the drug cold turkey. You might want to ask your doctor about switching to a different SSRI and see if that helps.

I’ve gone through antidepressant withdrawal cold turkey, and it was three and a half years of misery, although the discomfort slowly decreased over that time period. I found this forum to be tremendously helpful: http://survivingantidepressants.org/ Lots of useful information there and many people who are in the same fix to share your woes and victories.

FYI, if you want to get off antidepressants, your doctor can give you a prescription for a liquid version when you get near the end of tapering off. That way, you can taper very gradually during the last months, which is where it begins to get most difficult. A compounding pharmacy can make up the prescription for you. It will no doubt be more expensive than an ordinary prescription, but it would be well worth it. I wish I had known about this when I was suffering. Whatever you do, don’t just stop the drug. After a month or so of going off cold turkey, going back on the drug to stop withdrawal symptoms may not work. Take it slow and easy.

I’m on 50mg Sertraline a day and missed a dose one friday. By saturday evening I was feeling waves of tingling in my head and arms. I even checked my blood oxygen level because I wondered if my heart or lungs were to blame. Actually they are fine and a day later, after taking Sertraline again, the tingling started to subside.

I have been on Zoloff for many years and have been tapering off because I didn’t want to take a chance. It has helped me with depression & anxiety but I have brain fog and feet & leg cramps and believe I would be better off without it healthwise. I am down to 50mg and want to continue. It has to be done slowly. I notice I am sometimes more irritable with stressful situations and have little patience. I also quilt my Pravastatin for the same reasons plus my Sisters also had Alzheimer’s. Two died and the one Sister is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I had a Grandfather who I heard had Alzheimer’s or Dementia. I want to do everything I can to avoid this horrible disease.

As to the whole issue of ‘brain zaps’ I can describe a similar yet different feeling.

Some background:
I’ve been on Sertraline (Zoloft) at 200mg for at least two years to help heal me heal from depression.

I have been in the process of tapering down at the rate of 50mg every six weeks and am now in the last few weeks of the process (going from 200mg to 150mg to 100mg to 50mg and to be safe finally down to 25mg in the last of the six week stages.

Ok, now back to the ‘brain zaps’ …

What I feel at times is sort of a soft electric current, sometimes almost pleasurable like a massage, sometimes though with more intensity. Whatever the intensity though, I feel it radiate from almost the base of my skull and travel throughout my scalp and also down in the core of my chest, as if following the nerves there. This may sometimes also be accompanied by the same sensation of energy flowing down my arms all the way to my finger tips as if to want to be released out of them.

Another strange thing, and please comment in reply if you’ve experienced this to, is that if I simply look quickly with my eyes only (not moving my head) to one side or to the outside of my vision I also get this electric feeling.

In conclusion I am glad to be finishing up the rest of the drug and look forward to the days when I no longer have any withdrawal symptoms.

I have been on Zoloft for almost 12 years now. I get the brain zaps if I don’t take them for a few days. The most noticeable is when I look to the left or right with just my eyes. Glad to know I’m not the only one this happens to here. I tried to explain this to my Doc but they just look at me funny and prob think im crazy….Glad to know I’m not…well…maybe a little

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.

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

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..

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.

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!

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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