What You Need to Know about Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

Mal de Debarquement (MDD) is a French phrase that loosely translates to “sickness of disembarkment”. It is also known as the disembarkment syndrome. Often, when people leave land and set out on a cruise, they have to get their “sea legs”. This enables them to become steady and prevents them from crashing into things when the ship moves. After getting back on land, people typically revert to their “land legs”. However, some people constantly experience the rocking motion for a long time (weeks or months) after getting back on land. This is what is known as mal de debarquement. This phantom perception of motion can affect anybody, but it is most prevalent in women, especially those aged between 30 and 60.

This disorder affects the human balance system, and its symptoms are exacerbated when the patient is still. The symptoms may reappear when exposed to rocking movement and persist over time. While the main triggers of the disembarkment are activities that take place in the water, other triggers include flights and extended land travel.


The cause of MDD has not yet been established, but it is likely caused by the balance system of the body adapting and processing proprioceptive, vestibular and cognitive sensory inputs from the environment even after the sea trip has ended. There is still no plausible explanation to why the body is unable to adapt to the environment after sea travel.


Symptoms of this disorder include:

• Rocking, bobbing or swaying
• A lack of balance and equilibrium
• A feeling of fatigue even with minimum exertion
• A feeling of pressure on the frontal lobe area of the brain
• Headaches and migraines
• Mood changes
• Confusion
• Tinnitus
• Ear fullness

These symptoms are exacerbated by changes in temperature and barometric pressure, lack of sleep and stress. They may be sensitive to strong smells and light.


This disorder is diagnosed clinically. It is, therefore, vital to understand that you may have to visit the doctor a few times to be certain. The doctor will perform a hearing exam, blood tests, brain image scans, vestibular system and nervous system exams to rule out other causes for the symptoms. If the symptoms have been present for over a month, your doctor is likely to diagnose you with MDD syndrome.


MDD can be difficult to treat, just like most other balance system disorders. This does not mean that you should lose hope. Sometimes, symptoms can disappear without medical intervention. Displacement exercises such as jogging, cycling and working can help alleviate the symptoms of MDD. If, however, the symptoms persist, clonazepam is administered to the patient in low doses. Clonazepam is a drug that suppresses the brain circuits and nerves in the balance system, which is why the drug helps suppress the symptoms. Additionally, vestibular rehabilitation may be effective.

Research is still being carried out to help establish the neurological nature of MDD. This means that there is still some hope left for patients whose symptoms were not suppressed by the above interventions.


Tags: , ,

Recent Comments