Intro to Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS)

  • By Dizzy & Vertigo Institute
  • July 31, 2021

Imagine that you’ve just been on a long, relaxing cruise. When you leave the ship, you find that you still have a sense that you’re standing on something that rocks back and forth. It’s now been a couple of weeks or more, and you’re still feeling these rocking sensations. This is the livelihood of those with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS).

Mal de Debarquement Syndrome is a neurological disorder caused by exposure to an unfamiliar movement and subsequent removal of that movement. It’s typically caused by sea travel, though it can result from travel by airplane or automobile. (Read more on other sources of vertigo here.)

What is Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

Major symptoms of MdDS include sensations of rocking, bobbing, swaying, staggering gait, fatigue and even cognitive impairment. Patients with MdDS experience these sensations constantly.

On the surface, MdDS symptoms resemble those of motion sickness, but the two conditions are quite different.

Motion sickness is caused by conflicts among the senses. Any activity which sends potentially conflicting messages to your body, eyes, inner ears, muscles and joints. Many actions can trigger motion sickness, whose symptoms include nausea, cold sweats, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches.

However, motion sickness symptoms begin during periods of actual motion, while MdDS sufferers experience sensations of movement after the movement has stopped. People with MdDS often find that their symptoms increase when they try to remain motionless. It’s a debilitating and frightening condition which can cause sufferers to develop anxiety and depression.

At present, it’s not completely understood what causes MdDS. However, some researchers think that an otherwise useful skill – the ability to adapt to the motion of the boat or ship and develop so-called sea legs – stays in gear well after it is needed. The sensorimotor system never acclimates to being on land.

Some patients with MdDS end up relying on motion sickness medications to alleviate their symptoms. However, there are better alternatives.

Treating MdDS

Vestibular Audiologists, in particular, are well-suited to diagnose and treat MdDS. This is because they understand the nuances of the balance system and have the equipment specialized for analyzing the components that help create our balance. Therefore, they can pinpoint malfunctions and abnormalities in a person’s balance system.

Vestibular Labs, such as the Dizzy & Vertigo Institute, use Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (or Vestibular Retraining as it is sometimes called), to retrain the body, the brain, the inner ear, and the eyes to properly communicate and create balance. Those with MdDS have discrepancies in these areas that need to be realigned. 

Our advanced and virtual reality equipment assists us in treatment protocol modifications by using known habituation and visual dependence treatments. We are able to use optokinetic stimuli and help the brainstem interpret the visual stimulation while head movements send a conflicting signal. 

VRT is entirely customized to the patient’s case and has shown to improve the symptoms of those with MdDS.

If you or someone you know believes that they may have MdDS, then we urge you to reach out to us for a consultation.

You can reach our care team at (310) 954-2207 or by filling out our contact form.

We’re looking forward to helping you!

Posted in All, Blog, MdDS

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