MdDS through History: Early Association with Ocean Travel

  • In 1796, Erasmus Darwin (grandfather to Charles Darwin) recognized and described MdDS. “Those, who have been upon the water in a boat or ship so long, that they have acquired the necessary habits of motion upon that unstable element, at their return on land frequently think in their reveries, or between sleeping and waking, that they observe the room, they sit in, or some of its furniture, to librate like the motion of the vessel. This I have experienced myself, and have been told, that after long voyages, it is some time before these ideas entirely vanish. The same is observable in a less degree after having travelled some days in a stage coach, and particularly when we lie down in bed, and compose ourselves to sleep; in this case it is observable, that the rattling noise of the coach, as well as the undulatory motion, haunts us.” (E Darwin, Why after a voyage ideas of vibratory motions are perceived on shore. in Zoonomia. The Laws of Organic Life. Volume 1, London, 1796).

  • In 1881, JA Irwin referred to the “unsteady gait sometimes observed in a non-drunken sailor during his first few hours on shore after a long and stormy voyage” (Lancet, 188 ii:907-909, 1881).

  • In 1975, Reason and Brand described MdDS as a “transient sensation of tumbling, swinging, unsteadiness, and disequilibrium reported by passengers and crew after returning to land from long sea voyages” (JT Reason and JJ Brand, Motion Sickness, Academic Press, London, 1975).

  • In 1987, Brown and Baloh described the persistence of movement in a small number of dizzy patients.  (Am J Otolaryngol8:219-222, 1987)

  • In 1992, Carlos Gordon, Orna Spitzer, Avi Shupak, and Illana Doweck published the results of a survey of 234 healthy crew members from seagoing vessels; the mean age of study subjects was 20.5 years. The symptoms of mal de debarquement occurred equally among inexperienced and seasoned sailors and lasted from a few minutes to 24 hours; for most subjects, symptoms were less than 6 hours.   Gordon and colleagues suggested that the phenomenon is associated with the persistence of adaptation to the ship motion after disembarking.  (British Medical Journal, 304: 544, 1992)

  • In 1999, Hain and colleagues published a landmark article on the clinical features of 27 patients with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (Archiv Otolaryngol, 125:615-620, 1999).

  • In 2006, Yacovino and Gualtieri provided a description of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome in modern life  (Rev Neurol43:568-570, 2006. Spanish).

  • In 2008, Cha and colleagues at UCLA described the clinical features and associated syndromes of 64 patients with Mal de Debarquement and concluded that most episodes of Mal de Debarquement resolve within one year, however, resolution decreases if symptoms persist longer than this interval (J Neurol, 255:1038-1044, 2008).

  • In 2009, Yoon-Hee Cha, MD, published a comprehensive review article entitled, Mal de Debarquement (Semin Neurol, 29:520-527, 2009).  The review covers the clinical features, associated symptoms, theories on pathogenesis, experience with treatment, and future directions for research on MdDS.