New Treatment Offers Chance of Complete Recovery from Rare Disabling Movement Disorder

First Posted: Aug 08, 2014 07:42 AM EDT

A novel treatment has offered hope to those suffering from a rare disabling movement disorder called Mal de Debarquement syndrome.

Mal de Debarquement syndrome (MdDS) also known as Disembarkment Syndrome is a rare disorder that often develops after an ocean cruise, surfing or boating. Even after an extended period of time on land, after being out at sea, people with this syndrome experience a continuous imbalance or rocking sensation. The symptoms develop within an hour but in a few, especially women, the symptoms continue for months or years eventually causing fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, poor coordination and an inability to work. 

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, have developed a novel treatment that helps these people completely recover from the syndrome.

"Our study has provided the first effective treatment for this troublesome disorder, and we hope it provides relief to the thousands of people who may be affected worldwide," said Bernard Cohen, MD, the Morris Bender Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Till date, there has been no effective treatment to battle MdDS. Diagnostic tests conducted earlier at the school revealed that the syndrome occurred due to malfunctioning of the vestibule-ocular reflex (VOR), a mechanism in the inner ear that strikes a balance and stabilizes the eyes during head movements.

The novel treatment re-adapts the VOR by shifting the visual surrounding as the head is slowly rolled from side to side at the same frequency as the subjects symptomatic rocking. The head roll triggered the vertical eye movements and subjects were more inclined to turn to one side when marching in place.

In this study, the subjects were rocked at one cycle per five seconds. Generally, to provide cure, 3-5 treatments a day for one week was sufficient and the movements disappeared along with the associated symptoms. The side effects reported were negligible. Nearly 70 percent of 24 subjects were treated reporting either a complete or substantial recovery for a mean follow-up of a year after the treatment. A transient improvement was seen in just 6 subjects. 

"The work of our team also opens up a new area of research on how the Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex can produce head and body oscillations, and may eventually provide insight into other brain diseases that cause repetitive shaking and tremor of the head and body," Dr. Cohen said.

The finding was documented in the Frontiers in Neurology.

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