Disembarkment Syndrome

The Mystery of Disembarkment Syndrome

Most people haven’t heard of disembarkment syndrome, while some are suspicious of it.  The rare condition presents with very similar effects that you get after being on a boat.  You have probably had that feeling, where even after you get back on land you still feel as if you are bobbing on the deck of a ship on the high seas, the whole world seems as if it has a giant ocean beneath it.  Well, that is basically what disembarkment syndrome is, except that unlike most of us, those who end up suffering from this condition have prolonged and seemingly uninterrupted symptoms.  Some take years to recover, while others seem never to recover.  Imagine being seasick not just for a day or two but for the rest of your life—a true nightmare!

Therefore, what does the medical community know about this mysterious and harmful condition?


Besides that swaying, bobbing feeling that is the hallmark of this terrible condition, those suffering from disembarkment syndrome also get intense, almost migraine-like headaches and often, debilitating dizziness.  They have special difficulty walking along grades such as staircases or handling any kind of ground motion.  For example, when a person with this condition is standing on a crowded city sidewalk and a truck or bus rumbles by, shaking the ground under their feet, these sufferers are much more likely to lose their balance, or perhaps even fall to the ground.

Furthermore, the migraine intensity headaches can also force sufferers to retreat to a darkened room to wait for their pain to pass.  They also may feel as if they can’t clear the cobwebs out of their heads.  Reading becomes very difficult because they feel as if the page is moving beneath them at all times.  When those suffering from this condition try to speak, they often find that they have difficulty remembering certain words as well.  Attempts to read may lead to nausea and prolong headaches.

The condition is also often accompanied by difficulty hearing and a condition often referred to as “cotton ear.” 

All of these things can make it difficult for sufferers to go on with their normal lives and lead to general feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Risk Groups

Disembarkment syndrome tends to occur just after someone has been on some kind of a trip that involved long exposure to movement.  About two thirds of all sufferers first experience their symptoms just after getting off a long trip on a ship or boat.  The remaining third have their first experiences after an airplane flight or long car ride.

Studies also show that although some men experience this condition, ninety percent of sufferers are women, the average age of onset being about 44.  The condition lasts, on average, about three years, though some patients seem never to recover.

Stress, lack of sleep and other health conditions can exacerbate the condition.


Currently there is no cure for this condition, although scientists believe they may be better able to understand the condition within a few years.  At this point scientists mostly recommend that patients avoid injuring their health in every way possible.

One of the ironies of disembarkment syndrome is that although the condition is precipitated in the sufferer’s body while it is in motion, many studies show that vigorous exercise is the best way of keeping the symptoms at bay.  Thus, jogging and riding bicycles--while they place the patients’ body in motion--also tend to help them reduce the amount of dizziness they feel.  

So far, the condition has remained relatively contained, with only a handful of patients.  Researchers fear they may be many undiagnosed cases out there yet to be discovered.