October 21, 2022

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome is a disorder of the vestibular system that is not well understood. It is described as a phantom perception of self-motion. It is common to have a sense of motion, rocking, or swaying after exposure to prolonged episodes of passive motion. In normal individuals, that rocking or swaying perception may last for seconds or up to three days after exposure to a prolonged episode of passive motion. However, in individuals with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, that rocking sensation can last for months to years. It is reported that adult females are more likely to be affected by Mal de Debarquement Syndrome.

Our body uses sensory inputs from the visual, vestibular, somatosensory, and cognitive systems to maintain body balance function. The cause of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome is unknown. However, it is believed that this happens because after being exposed to a prolonged episode of passive motion, the body cannot process and adapt to the situation causing a mismatch in the different sensory inputs that our body uses to maintain balance.

Signs & Symptoms
Persistent sense of motion and rocking.

Symptoms may get worse with:
Fast movement.
Being still (ex. going to sleep/sitting in a chair).
Flickering lights.

Some patients have reported improvements in symptoms temporally when they have been exposed again to passive motion (e.g. riding a car).

A comprehensive case history is essential in patients with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome. In addition, a complete vestibular function test must be recommended in patients with presumed Mal de Debarquement Syndrome to rule out other etiologies that may be causing the patient’s symptoms.

Physical therapy: Vestibular rehabilitation (exercises that can help to improve steadiness and balance).
Lifestyle: Exercising and reducing stress levels may help to reduce symptoms.
Medication: There is no specific medication for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome. Consult your doctor for more information about medications that may improve some symptoms.

Three Things to know:
Common triggers for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome are water-based activities like a cruise.
Mal de Debarquement Syndrome patients rarely experience true rotational vertigo.
The severity or duration of the syndrome is not determined by how long the person was exposed to a motion experience.


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