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Swaying like on a ship: Mal de Débarquement Syndrome (MdDS) can affect anyone

Swaying like on a ship - MdDS, the Mal de Débarquement Syndrome

If you have ever been on a boat, yacht or cruise ship for a long time, you may be familiar with this strange feeling that creeps up on you when you have solid ground under your feet again: the floor seems to sway back and forth – just like on a yacht. For most people, this effect is harmless and disappears again after a short time. But there are exceptions – then it is a tangible illness.

In particular, people who have been on a yacht for a long time, or who have sailed in a sea regatta with lots of wind and waves, or guests who have been on a cruise ship for a few days (on a moving sea), know the feeling when they put their feet back on dry land – the body needs a certain amount of time to switch back from “swaying” to “solid” ground.

As long as this effect, known as Mal de Débarquement Syndrome, lasts, those affected feel as if they are still on a boat. In our experience, this effect is particularly noticeable if you enter a narrow, windowless room with a checkered tile pattern – such as a shower or toilet – immediately after getting off the boat.

Normally, the effect of swaying on solid ground disappears again after a short time

As a rule, however, Mal de Débarquement Syndrome should disappear completely after a few minutes or hours. After a longer trip, it can sometimes take until the next morning until the world is “back on track” and the ground under your feet is “solid” again. Interesting fact: train travelers, people who have been on airplanes or rollercoaster riders can also be affected.

In a small number of people, however, the symptoms persist for weeks, months or, in some cases, even years. This is then referred to as a disease, and only then is it actually Mal de Debarquement syndrome. The term is derived from the French mal = illness and debarquement = abandoning ship (Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, MdDS).

While MdDS is initially characterized by a feeling of swaying in all directions (like on a boat), other symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, balance disorders, disorientation, headaches, fatigue, sensitivity to stimuli, concentration disorders, tinnitus, increased anxiety, depression and other functional disorders may occur somewhat later, reports Dr. Thomas Weiss from Mannheim, who has studied the topic in detail, reports on

According to the study, women, people who are prone to seasickness, people with depressive symptoms, people who have been exposed to particularly strong fluctuations, possibly more often migraine patients and people with higher sensitivity, anxiety and other functional disorders are particularly affected. The so-called “vestibulo-ocular reflex” is of particular importance.

In simple terms, Mal de Debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is about a failure to return from “swaying” to “solid ground”

In simple terms, humans have an “extraordinarily advanced stabilization system that even the most modern cameras cannot keep up with”. Even if it has not been fully clarified scientifically how exactly Mal de Debarquement syndrome is to be understood, it is assumed that it is a case of an “incomplete reset”.

The brain has successfully adjusted to a situation (swaying) and does not manage to correct it again (solid ground). It remains in “fluctuation mode” and continues to provide the information that would be necessary to compensate for the fluctuation of the environment.

In order to successfully break out of this vicious circle, the doctor recommends massages, heat or relaxation techniques in addition to calming anxiety. The focus of a promising treatment, however, is training; the system of the eye, balance organ, muscle and joint perception must be “recalibrated”.

The balance must be “challenged by as many complex movements as possible in order to be able to reorganize itself”.

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