Comprehensive clinical profile of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

Yoon Hee Cha, Yong Yan Cui, Robert W. Baloh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: There has been increasing awareness that post-motion triggered rocking self-vertigo can last for months or years, a disorder known as Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS). A similar feeling of oscillating self-motion can occur without a motion trigger in some individuals, leading to controversy about whether motion triggered (MT) and non-motion triggered (non-MT) symptoms ultimately represent the same disorder. Recognizing the similarities and differences between MT and non-MT MdDS can prevent unnecessary diagnostic testing and lead to earlier and more effective treatments. Methods: Standardized questionnaire assessment and follow-up interviews of individuals with persistent MT or non-MT MdDS (> 1 month) examined at a University Dizziness Clinic. Findings: Questionnaires were available on 80 individuals with persistent MT MdDS and 42 with non-MT MdDS. Sex distribution (81% female) and age of onset (mean 43.4 ± 12.2 years MT; 42.1 ± 15.2 years non-MT) were comparable between MT and non-MT MdDS (p > 0.05). Mean duration of illness was significantly longer in the non-MT group (82.8 ± 64.2 months) than the MT group (35.4 ± 46.4 months) (p < 0.001). There was no correlation between trigger type and age of onset or duration of illness for MT MdDS. Improvement with re-exposure to motion (driving) was typical for both (MT = 89%, non-MT = 64%), but non-MT individuals more frequently had symptoms exacerbated with motion (MT = 0%; non-MT = 10%). Peri-menstrual and menstrual worsening of symptoms was typical in both MT and non-MT MdDS (each 71%). Both MT and non-MT MdDS exhibited a higher population baseline prevalence of migraine (23% and 38%, respectively). Benzodiazepines and SSRI/SNRIs were helpful in both subtypes of MdDS (> 50% individuals with a positive response). Physical therapy was modestly helpful in the MT (56%) subtype but not in non-MT (15%). Vestibular therapy made as many individuals worse as better in MT and none improved in the non-MT group. Conclusion: General demographic characteristics and exacerbating factors are similar in MT and non-MT MdDS, but there are differences in the duration of illness, effect of motion on symptoms, and response to therapy. Recognizing clinical features of MdDS subtypes may allow for better tailoring of therapy and potentially serve as classification criteria for new clinical designations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number261
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - May 7 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the many patients throughout the years who have participated in these studies. This work was funded by MdDS Balance Disorders Foundation, Springbank Foundation, NIH-NIDCD R03-DC010451, NSF EPSCor RII Track-2 #1539068, and NIH-NIHGMS grant P20G M121312.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Cha, Cui and Baloh.


  • Clinical spectrum
  • Mal de Debarquement Syndrome
  • Persistent postural perceptual dizziness
  • Rocking vertigo
  • Therapeutics


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