Mal de debarquement syndrome (MDDS)

Mal de debarquement means ‘sickness of disembarkement’ which refers to an illusion of movement felt as an after effect of travel. Sea travel is the most common starting point for the disorder. Symptoms can last for weeks, months or even years.


The symptoms of mal de debarquement include the sensation of rocking, bobbing or swaying; along with unsteadiness, anxiety and loss of self confidence. The symptoms often increase when the person is trying to remain motionless for example attempting to fall asleep or standing still. Mal de debarquement does not include other symptoms such as spinning, vomiting, ear pressure, tinnitus or hearing loss which are associated with vestibular disorders.

Who is affected?

Long lasting mal de debarquement is often experienced by middle aged women more so than any other groups.

What causes mal de debarquement syndrome?

It has been suggested that the syndrome is not in the inner ear but occurs somewhere with in the balance areas of the brain. It is thought that the brain adapts to a particular motion, for example, of a ship, however when the movement stops the brain is unable to readapt to its former state. Another theory is that mal de debarquement is a migraine variant.

How is mal de debarquement syndrome diagnosed?

It is diagnosed through characteristic history of symptoms, physical examination and conducting tests to rule out other possible vestibular disorders. For diagnosis there must be a history of a ship voyage or another new movement, when returned to a normal environment then the symptoms would have started.

Managing symptoms/treatment

There is no specific treatment for mal de debarquement syndrome so far. The standard drugs given for sickness seem to be ineffective. Some treatments that have been suggested include vestibular rehabilitation therapy. There are some helpful tips for coping and managing the symptoms including reducing stress and getting a good night’s sleep. Additionally, when driving it may help if you move your head while stopped at traffic lights and look ahead for a few minutes before getting out of the car. After the end of an activity with constant movement, take a walk and focus on the horizon.

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