Clinical features of mal de debarquement: Adaptation and habituation to sea conditions

Carlos R. Gordon, Orna Spitzer, Ilana Doweck, Yehuda Melamed, Avi Shupak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A survey conducted among 116 crew members of seagoing vessels confirmed that mal de debarquement (M-D) is a transient feeling of swinging, swaying, unsteadiness, and disequilibrium. None of the subjects requested medical attention, although there were isolated cases in which a strong sensation of swinging and unsteadiness caused transient postural instability and impaired the ability to drive. In most cases, the sensation of M-D appeared immediately on disembarking and generally lasted a few hours. In addition, subjects usually described bouts or attacks of M-D associated with changes in body posture, head position, or with closing of the eyes. M-D was reported by 72% of our subjects. Sixty-six percent of subjects reported a high incidence following their first voyages. A significant positive correlation was found between M-D and seasickness susceptibility. The nature of M-D may be explained within the framework of multisensorimotor adaptation and habituation to a new or abnormal motion environment. It is suggested that M-D represents a dynamic, multisensorimotor form of CNS adaptive plasticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-369
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Vestibular Research: Equilibrium and Orientation
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptation
  • habituation
  • mal de debarquement
  • motion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Sensory Systems
  • General Neuroscience
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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