Clinical features and associated syndromes of mal de debarquement

J Neurol. 2008 Jul;255(7):1038-44. doi: 10.1007/s00415-008-0837-3. Epub 2008 May 30.


Objective: To investigate the clinical features and natural history of mal de debarquement (MdD).

Design: Retrospective case review with follow-up questionnaire and telephone interviews.

Setting: University Neurotology Clinic.

Patients: Patients seen between 1980 and 2006 who developed a persistent sensation of rocking or swaying for at least 3 days after exposure to passive motion.

Main outcome measure: Clinical features,diagnostic testing, and questionnaire responses.

Results: Of 64 patients(75% women) identified with MdD, 34 completed follow-up questionnaires and interviews in 2006. Most patients had normal neurological exams, ENGs and brain MRIs. The average age of the first MdD episode was 39+/-13 years. A total of 206 episodes were experienced by 64 patients. Of these, 104 episodes (51%) lasted>1 month; 18%, >1 year; 15%, >2 years; 12%, >4 years, and 11%, >5 years. Eighteen patients (28%) subsequently developed spontaneous episodes of MdD-like symptoms after the initial MdD episode.There was a much higher rate of migraine in patients who went onto develop spontaneous episodes(73%) than in those who did not(22%). Subsequent episodes were longer than earlier ones in most patients who had multiple episodes.Re-exposure to passive motion temporarily decreased symptoms in most patients (66%).Subjective intolerance to visual motion increased (10% to 66%)but self-motion sensitivity did not(37% to 50%) with onset of MdD.

Conclusion: The majority of MdD episodes lasting longer than 3 days resolve in less than one year but the probability of resolution declines each year. Many patients experience multiple MdD episodes. Some patients develop spontaneous episodes after the initial motion-triggered episode with migraine being a risk factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Sickness / complications*
  • Motion Sickness / drug therapy
  • Postural Balance*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vestibular Diseases / complications*
  • Vestibular Diseases / drug therapy


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antiemetics