The Mysterious Illness of Disembarkment

Author: Nikki Jiang

Editors: Megan Liu and Ken Saito

Artist: Jenny Li

Mal de Debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is a poorly understood condition and is far more common than people may think. It is a neurological disorder in which people create false and unexpected illusions of movement. An example would be an airplane experiencing turbulence, even when the patient is not moving. MdDS occurs after extremely long flights or boat rides when a human’s balance instinct is unable to adapt to the new environment. This phantom feeling often lasts up to 24 hours after a trip and affects about 75% of sailors. When this phantom feeling is prolonged over a period, it is called Mal de Debarquement syndrome. Patients may feel a rocking or swaying sensation and dizziness for months, even years after disembarking a plane or boat. Imbalance, fatigue, anxiety, migraines, and confusion are some other symptoms exhibited by MdDS.

There are many unknowns regarding this rare syndrome and the balance system of the human body. The balance system’s inability to adapt quickly remains a mystery. One theory is that the brain does not effectively signal changes in the body to accommodate constant swaying and movement. Over a long period in this environment, the body has trouble undoing these accommodations. Although the cause of MdDS is known, the specific reasons for it are still mere speculations. Additionally, official biological markers or tests for the diagnosis of MdDS have yet to be developed. The current diagnosis is performed by questioning travel history and running tests to eliminate other possible disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

Currently, there are no treatments for MdDS. Since the mechanics of this syndrome are still unknown, scientists have found it especially difficult to treat effectively. Today, patients suffering from MdDS are advised to avoid any possible triggers for the symptoms and are prescribed low doses of motion sickness medicine. MdDS causes a significant decrease in quality of life and can become a considerable burden for patients, so scientists are currently working to help eradicate this problem.

 

Citation:

Clark, Brian C., et al. Effects of Persistent Mal De Debarquement Syndrome on Balance,

Psychological Traits, and Motor Cortex Excitability. 6 Dec. 2012,

www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967586812003335.

Mal De Debarquement. 5 June 2020, rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/mal-de-debarquement/.

MdDS Foundation. “Vertigo after Flying: Vertigo after Cruise.” MdDS Foundation, 8

Sept. 2020, mddsfoundation.org/about/.

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