Rocking dizziness and headache: a two-way street

Cephalalgia. 2013 Oct;33(14):1160-9. doi: 10.1177/0333102413487999. Epub 2013 May 14.


Background: Chronic rocking dizziness, often described as the feeling of being on a boat, is classically triggered by prolonged exposure to passive motion. Patients with this motion-triggered sensation of rocking, which is also known as MAL DE DEBARQUEMENT SYNDROME , often develop new onset headaches along with the dizziness. Chronic rocking dizziness has also been noted in vestibular migraine, occurring without a motion trigger. We sought to clarify the association between both motion-triggered (MT) and non-motion-triggered (non-MT) chronic rocking dizziness and headache history.

Methods: Our methods included questionnaire and interview study of subjects with either MT or non-MT chronic rocking dizziness.

Results: Onset of headaches was earlier in patients with non-MT rocking dizziness (median 26 years: MT; 16 years: non-MT). In MT subjects, there was a bimodal peak of age of onset of headache (20-29 years and 40-49 years). Most headache met criteria for migraine in both groups. By the time that chronic dizziness occurred, both groups had a comparable prevalence of migraine headache (41%: MT; 46%: non-MT). Pre-existing headache usually worsened after the onset of dizziness.

Discussion: Though rocking dizziness does not meet current criteria for vestibular migraine, migraine physiology may predispose to, develop in, or worsen with the onset of chronic rocking dizziness.

Keywords: Rocking dizziness; chronic subjective dizziness; mal de debarquement syndrome; vestibular migraine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Dizziness / diagnosis*
  • Dizziness / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Headache / diagnosis
  • Headache / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Motion Sickness / diagnosis*
  • Motion Sickness / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Travel
  • Travel-Related Illness
  • Young Adult

Supplementary concepts

  • Mal de debarquement