4 Uncommon Causes of Chronic Dizziness

Often dizziness can be associated with issues like migraine, low blood pressure, eating, ear problems, or it can be a medication side effect. There are many common causes for dizziness, and this symptom can also be associated with rare conditions.

A woman standing while dizzy
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Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

Mal de debarquement, which means "sickness of disembarkment" in French, was originally described by sailors who, after having come ashore, felt as if they were still aboard a rocking ship.

The sensation is quite common in perfectly healthy people who have just stepped off a boat or plane. Most of the time, the condition will resolve in a day or so.

Rarely, it can last for months and even years. The persistent rocking sensation can be made worse when in confined passageways (such as a grocery store aisle) or while viewing contrasting movements, such as turning the head while crossing a busy intersection.

No one quite knows why mal de debarquement persists in some people. While it may take time, the disorder will usually go away on its own.

To date, no study has offered a qualifiable treatment. Some doctors have anecdotally found benefits with anti-depressants and anti-seizure mediations. Motion sickness drugs such as meclizine, scopolamine, and promethazine appear to be less effective.

Bilateral Vestibulopathy

The vestibular system is responsible for regulating balance by relaying information to the brain that helps inform us about our body's position in space (known as proprioception). The signals come from the inner ears on both sides of the head, which then travel along the vestibular nerve to the brainstem.

If one inner ear is damaged, those signals may be impeded and lead to symptoms of dizziness. More often than not, the body will eventually be able to compensate for this as it gradually adapts to the imbalance.

However, if both inner ears are damaged, profound instability can occur for which the body is less able to compensate. Bilateral vestibulopathy can result from illnesses like meningitis, encephalitis, or Meniere disease or with the use of certain drugs like aminoglycoside antibiotics. Bilateral ear surgery can also cause the condition, as can deafness and certain inherited vertigo disorders.

Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

Acute cerebellar ataxia (ACA) occurs when a portion of the brain, known as the cerebellum, becomes inflamed or damaged. The cerebellum is responsible for regulating motor control and muscle coordination. Damage to this part of the brain can cause instability, loss of coordination, and persistent dizziness.

ACA most commonly affects children under age 6. In adults, it can be caused by a stroke or diseases affecting the cerebellum, such as multiple sclerosis. Treatments can vary based on the cause and may include steroids, antibiotics, antivirals, or intravenous immunoglobulin therapy.

Vestibular Schwannoma

Vestibular schwannoma, also known as acoustic neuroma, involves the abnormal growth of the Schwann cells of the vestibulocochlear nerve. The condition affects around one of every 100,000 people each year.

Vestibular schwannoma can affect movement and stability and trigger true rotational vertigo in which the world seems to be spinning in circles. Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are also common symptoms. The condition is rarely life-threatening.

Depending on the location of the tumor, treatment may involve surgery or radiation therapy.

A Word From Verywell

A condition called chronic subjective dizziness is characterized by symptoms of dizziness without a cause. While it can be treated, before this condition is diagnosed, other possible causes that have different methods of treatment need to be ruled out.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rocking After Travel? You May Have MdDS - Learn the Signs & Symptoms. MdDS Foundation. https://mddsfoundation.org/symptoms/.

  2. Mal de debarquement syndrome. Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, National Institute of Health. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6959/mal-de-debarquement. January 11, 2018.

  3. Strupp M, Feil K, Dieterich M, Brandt T. Bilateral vestibulopathy. Handb Clin Neurol. 2016;137:235-40. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-63437-5.00017-0

  4. Naselli A, Pala G, Cresta F, Finetti M, Biancheri R, Renna S. Acute post-infectious cerebellar ataxia due to co-infection of human herpesvirus-6 and adenovirus mimicking myositis. Ital J Pediatr. 2014;40:98. doi:10.1186/s13052-014-0098-y

  5. Pedroso JL, Vale TC, Braga-neto P, et al. Acute cerebellar ataxia: differential diagnosis and clinical approach. Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2019;77(3):184-193. doi:10.1590/0004-282X20190020.

  6. Thompson TL, Amedee R. Vertigo: a review of common peripheral and central vestibular disorders. Ochsner J. 2009;9(1):20-6. PMID:21603405

Additional Reading

By Peter Pressman, MD
Peter Pressman, MD, is a board-certified neurologist developing new ways to diagnose and care for people with neurocognitive disorders.