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Brain injury blog by survivor

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Brain injury blog by survivor

Brain injury blog by survivor



Are these brain zaps just anxiety or my brain injury?

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Since my car accident, I have noticed that I get brain zaps at times (or electric shocks as I have described them as to my partner James.) I’ve read many articles which claim these can happen to anyone as they can be a response to a change in some medications and/or anxiety. I’m sure that is true, but I think it also happens to me because of my head injury.

Brain zap symptoms

There are a number of different sensations people can have when they have a brain zap. Personally I have 2 very different types of episodes. The first basically looks like a very dramatic full body shiver like what happens when one is cold. But it can appear pretty weird because it makes me shake my head in an odd manner. This is sort of an involuntary tic. The second is more scary and painful: This is the one that is more like an electric shock and it hurts my head. It’s peculiar  because the most intense spots are in my left temple and my left wrist. I almost can imagine that they are the entry and exit points on the electric charge. (Just to be clear, I am not really having an electric shock, it’s just the best way of describing it.) Just before either of these episodes happen I have a tense feeling. I don’t mean in my muscles, just a sense. The tense feeling will suddenly build just seconds before the episode, and once the zap is over I’m left with a sense of relief as the tension is over. The zap is over very quickly for me, but I know some people unfortunately have extended episodes.

What are brain zaps?

I haven’t managed to identify if they have an official name, but brain zap seems to be one of the most common descriptions for it. Other terms people may use include brain shivers, brain shocks, head shocks, or my favourite, because I think it helps others imagine what I’m experiencing, electrical shocks. There is no evidence to suggest that these are dangerous, but believe me it’s pretty disconcerting. I’ve also struggled to find a definitive answer as to what is actually happening when one of these episodes happens. The closest I have come to a explanation is on

“Seizures are caused by the over-excitement of neurons that then cause an “excessive, hypersynchronous discharge” in the brain. This discharge can cause abnormal neuronal firing that sends uncontrolled neurological signals to the rest of the body causing convulsions and loss of consciousness.
Minor localized seizures, however, produce a small effect. This localization is thought to account for the brain zaps and head zaps symptom where the effects of the “electrical shock” feelings are minimal……hyperstimulation can cause the over-excitation of neurons similar to the cause of seizures, but on a smaller, more localized scale.”

What can cause brain zaps?

It is suggested that some anti depressants can cause this by changing the levels of serotonin in the brain. However as we all have different chemistry this isn’t necessarily true for us all. I started having brain zaps before starting antidepressants, and they still affect me now even though I have been on the same dosage for a long time. It is often reported that some patients can experience zaps as they lower their dosage and it is a consequence of withdrawal. Therefore you should always consult your doctor so they can supervise the pace at which you do this to minimise any adverse effects.

Another culprit can be anxiety and/or depression as it often is due to low levels of GABA Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). GABA is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for calming the nervous system. Without enough GABA the neurons in the brain can become overactive which is why it feels like the brain has suddenly started to short out. This makes sense to me and I do feel that this suggestion goes some way to explaining why this happens to me.

But this didn’t happen before my brain injury so is it connected?

The short answer is I don’t know, but I strongly suspect it is. Why? Because I have damaged pathways in my brain, so all the information and instructions are being sent the long way round. This means that my head injury is invisible and the average person would never spot anything wrong with me. However, just like it’s more tiring to walk home rather than take the car, my brain is working much harder than before to complete every task. Therefore I can image that in this situation my working neurons can become more overactive as they are having to make up for their damaged counterparts. 

Invariably after a long day which has included something like a difficult conversation or travel, at some point in the day I will have a few zaps. So yes stress is a factor, but I think my TBI means my tolerance levels for it have been decreased. I wasn’t an anxious person before my injury so it has definitely affected my brain chemistry and mental health. Therefore I’m blaming my brain injury for that as well.  

Do brain zaps affect you? Do you think it's your medication or anxiety or do you think it's because of your brain injury?


30 replies on “Are these brain zaps just anxiety or my brain injury?”

Have you ever tried taking 5-htp supplement?
It helps your brain to make more serotonin, and any excess is made into melatonin.
Here in USA, you can buy over the counter, for a few bucks.
It is not advised to take this with medication, but it helps my brain work better, and I have had several TBI.
Eventually your brain zaps may go away, depending on other things you are doing, a pharmacist or doctors imput.
Here, my doctors didnt believe I had had all these head injuries, so I use natural or folk medicine, and it works for me.

Thanks Mickey, no I haven’t looked at that before. I take antidepressants which increase the serotonin so perhaps that’s why the doctor hasn’t mentioned 5-thp supplements to me, but I will look into it. ?

Great article! I get brain zaps too since frontal lobe damage and Hydrocephalus. Thought I was going mad sometimes but you’ve reassured me it’s not just me ? BTW you shouldn’t take 5htp if taking anti depressants . Too much seratonin

Yes Shaun I thought it was just me for a long time too! And it’s so difficult to describe it to someone who hasn’t ever experienced it without sounding like you’re being either crazy or overly dramatic. Thanks for the advice on the 5htp, I did think that it probably wasn’t good to mix antidepressants with something else that is doing a similar job, but thanks for confirming it for me.

That must prove that brain zaps are not just anxiety then. Thanks Jo, I’m sorry that you get them, but thanks for sharing your experience as it gives me more confidence that it can be due to a physical injury too.

Thank you so very much for bringing this somewhat confusing topic into the light! It’s difficult to explain to others when I experience these episodes in my head/brain, as it is invisible. Thanks again for your time and research.

Thank you for writing this! I thought it was just me. My brain zaps started after head injury number 4. Even when I wasn’t being zapped, I looked and felt terrible for months. I went through all the testing for seizures and nothing. My family doctor diagnosed a mental health condition (no history of anxiety). I got a second opinion and a neurologist gave me a seizure medication (one that calms the nervous system, not an anti-convulsant), and it got them under control. I went from having 5 a day to one every other month. I really think this is a brain injury symptom that hasn’t been looked into.

That’s great that your neurologist prescribed a medication that is making such a significant difference for you! It is a shame that it doesn’t great talked about more, because I think there’s a lot of us survivors who are going through it.

I have been getting “brain zaps” or shooting/sharp/pain for an instant almost once a day. This started seven years after a head injury. The doctors I went to could not point out why this happens, but said it was not life threatening. Any information on this?

I’m not a doctor and there just isn’t much information out there that I found helpful. As I said in the article, the best piece I found on it was from Anxiety Centre (the link at the end of the paragraph titled “What are brain zaps?”, takes you straight to their article on it.) All the articles I read also agreed that they are not dangerous.

I have brains that don’t take any medications I’m not sure if it’s from low blood pressure I don’t have any eggs iety that I’m aware of but I did have a brain injury or trauma about 7 years ago and also was hit in the head with a medicine ball and fell and hit my head so could that be the cause of my brain zaps or it’s just that I need food please help I usually get them when I am laying down asleep or trying to sleep and it’s follows sometimes with a small headache was it just my body saying I need nutrients or maybe I don’t have enough serotonin or that GABA acid I read about that caused an overworking of my Neurons and Central Neverous System .

60YO with concussion last month. On no medications before this and now I am having what I describe as electrical shocks to the back and side of my head and sometimes in my neck and pain behind my left eye. No abnormalities on CT Scan. Can not “think” straight or hold a thought, agitated, hostile, and anxious. Afraid to take any more meds as I felt crazy depressed. Not one MD can find anything wrong with me.

Maybe it is the anxiety which is to blame in your case. Regular meditation helped me get my anxiety back under control. I can understand your reluctance to try any new medications, but it could be worth discussing with your doctor if changing something to help address the anxiety if all else fails.

Hello my name is John. I’m 81.. Started having these brain zaps after a head injury from a fall. Most of the time the brain zaps
are no big deal. Sometimes I have a brain disconnect(like I am starting to die) and the bolt of electricity turns me back on. This can be scary. So, I say thanks for the brain zap. Hope the doctors figure out my problem.

I have the same exact issue and it started after an accident too. What I’ve also come to realize for me is that If I come across certain oders, the following night or so the symptoms show up during my sleep along with sleep paralysis, and even more likely to happen if I sleep on my back, rather than my side. The most potent oder which is pretty much a guaranteed to trigger it is the smell of something burning, such as burnt toast. I’ve noticed its been more than a year since this post, have you found solutions to this since?

That’s interesting that you have identified a specific trigger for your brain zaps. Mine I feel are more connected with stress and low energy levels. Therefore I find a long nap is needed and it often signals that I’ve over done it ad will need to use the following day as a recovery day.

Thank you for the post. I get brain zaps including body paralysis… scary. I have never taken antidepressants but have had brain injuries.

Oh my, coupled with paralysis… that’s terrifying! I sincerely hope that in time they become less severe.

I had my first brain zap about 3.5 months after my TBI. Scared the daylights out of me! I was trying to set up a website, was getting frustrated and all of a sudden my neck seized, my head burst into this major headache and I completely shut down! I’ve had one more minor one since but I’m very careful now not to push myself or stress too much if I can help it! Whew!!

I want to give my latest experience, previously it would be like a tuning fork resting on my head. Now after yet another head injury, I get a fast and sharp zap with the sound of a tambourine striking a palm. Not sure if anyone else has sound stuff as well, but after many concussions and 3 TBI’s, I wouldn’t say everyone treated their head as haphazardly as I did to reach this point.

It sound I get is more shrill and sounds electric. Maybe there’s lots of different sounds people experience during a brain zap?

I get brain zaps every now & again too. It was actually the first symptom I felt a few months before I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Thankyou so much for this post as I now know I’m not going crazy & that it’s most likely due to my brain injury. I don’t feel so alone x

So pleased that I’ve been able to help, even when it’s only a small thing. It must have been terrifying to learn that you have a brain tumour. I hope your treatment is going well. Take care x

Mine felt like a rubber band snap if I was trying to recall a memory or how to say something.
Dehydration can cause them as well.

That’s a good way of describing it. And thank you for the reminder that dehydration can bring them on too. We must remember to drink enough water.

I have been having the same issue of the brain zaps with increasing frequency(sometimes it manifests as electrical shocks through different parts of my body too). I questioned whether it had anything to do with my TBI because it’s been 4 years since my coma. But as you described, they’re triggered by life events that cause increased anxiety. So, that’s an interesting thing to consider. Ultimately, a solution is what I’ll be looking for in the near future.

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