Dr. Michael Heublum - MD

Disembarkment Syndrome 

Disembarkment syndrome is a neurological condition usually occurring after a cruise, aircraft flight, or other sustained motion event. The phrase “mal de débarquement” is French and translates to “illness of disembarkation”.
 

Understanding Disembarkment Syndrome

Disembarkment syndrome is a medical condition that may occur following a sustained motion event like an aircraft flight or cruise. It is a neurological condition that is normally diagnosed by a neurologist when the sufferer reports a persistent swaying, rocking, or bobbing sensation. Disembarkment syndrome is often baffling to the doctor attempting to diagnose the condition.

Diagnosis

Disembarkment syndrome can be diagnosed in a number of ways. The most usual way is by identifying the characteristic symptoms like constant swaying or rocking feelings that are minimized or alleviated when the motion that triggered them returns. There are currently no definitive tests for the condition. A diagnosis is arrived at by ruling out other conditions. Diagnostic testing may include balance and hearing tests that are conducted by a neurologist, diagnostic technician, or an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the Balance & Dizziness Center.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for disembarkment syndrome. The focus of treatment is on alleviating symptoms using a type of displacement exercise like jogging, walking, or bicycling. Medications that lower the activity of brain circuits and nerves involved in balance have also proven helpful to many people living with disembarkment syndrome.

Symptoms of Disembarkment Syndrome

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The most common symptoms of disembarkment syndrome are a persistent, subjective experience of motion like swaying, bobbing, or rocking. It typically involves problems with maintaining balance. Sufferers from the condition tend to grow fatigued rapidly and experience back and neck pain.

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Additional symptoms may include a feeling of pressure in the frontal part of the skull, headaches, ear pain, tinnitus, and ear fullness.

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Changes in weather conditions tend to affect sufferers of disembarkment syndrome, particularly weather changes like drops in barometric pressure and hot weather. Photo-sensitivity is another common symptom that may make it difficult to move around in the dark. “Brain fog” is a cognitive problem that may prevent the sufferer from recalling certain words, impair their ability to multi-task, or exhibit short-term memory loss.

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Lack of sleep, crowds, loud sounds, flickering lights, sudden movements, and enclosed areas may worsen symptoms in some sufferers. Some people with disembarkment syndrome may sleep far beyond their usual sleep times.

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Symptoms are sometimes alleviated when the patient returns to the motion that led to their initial symptoms. However, once this motion stops, symptoms can return, often in a much stronger way than when initial symptoms were developed.

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Disembarkment syndrome symptoms are often debilitating to the patient. They may fluctuate on a daily basis and have an extremely negative impact on the patient’s work capacity. Many patients must limit their work or even quit their jobs. The condition can also have a negative impact on their social activities and lead to a lower quality of life.

Causes

Disembarkment syndrome cannot be explained by inner ear pathology or structural brain pathology. It is most often linked to some type of motion trigger and velocity storage.

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Dizziness

Lightheadedness

Vertigo

Falls

Ataxia

Syncope / Near Syncope

Post Traumatic Balance Disorder

Disembarkment Syndrome

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