Unveiling an Under-Reported Condition: Promoting Awareness of Motorist’s Vestibular Disorientation Syndrome
For 46-year-old R.V., a sales manager who frequently embarks on long drives to meet clients, his career faced an uncertain future when he began experiencing dizziness, palpitations, and body stiffness while driving. Despite his extensive 22-year experience on the roads, he couldn’t understand why these symptoms would plague him every time he got behind the wheel.
A visit to neurologist Dr. Vishal Pawar at the Vertigo Clinic in Aster Clinic, Discovery Gardens, Dubai, shed light on R.V.’s condition. He was diagnosed with Motorist’s Vestibular Disorientation Syndrome (MVDS), a rarely discussed ailment with limited literature and often prone to misdiagnosis.
Dr. Vishal, who has diligently observed patients at the vertigo clinic for the past four years, noticed a recurring pattern among many of them. “Many experienced palpitations, dizziness, stiffness, and other symptoms while driving,” he explained. “Interestingly, none of them were new drivers. They had been driving for at least five years before encountering these issues. That’s when I realized they were exhibiting classic symptoms of MVDS.”
Dr. Vishal is currently working on publishing a paper featuring case studies of more than 24 patients diagnosed with MVDS over the last four years. His aim is to raise awareness about the condition and help other doctors recognize its signs. He noted that some of his patients had previously consulted up to eight doctors who were unable to diagnose their problem.
Among his patients, Dr. Vishal identified several common characteristics. “Most of them experienced symptoms at speeds of 80 kmph or higher,” he noted. “They also encountered issues at bends, turns, or on multi-lane roads, particularly in the high-speed lane. Many also displayed symptoms on uphill or downhill slopes or while overtaking large vehicles.”
According to Dr. Vishal, the challenges arise when the brain struggles to coordinate all the necessary functions for driving. “Driving is a complex cognitive skill that is learned,” he explained. “In the UAE, driving conditions are dynamic, with expansive highways and high speeds. Multiple areas of the brain are involved in driving, requiring higher cognitive function, spatial awareness, memory, vision, motor skills, and sensory integration, including the use of the cerebellum.”
When discomfort arises, patients instinctively attempt to compensate. “When patients feel dizzy or disoriented while driving, they try to make postural adjustments,” Dr. Vishal said. “If that fails, panic sets in. Many of them have to pull over and take a break before they can resume their journey.”
For R.V., his treatment involved a combination of prescribed medication, vestibular physiotherapy using virtual reality goggles, and counseling with a psychologist. Over a two-year period, he experienced significant improvement in his symptoms, enabling him to drive without any issues.
Dr. Vishal emphasized that a comprehensive approach involving a combination of medication, counseling, and rehabilitation, including simulated driving games, often helps patients recover and resume driving without difficulties.
Although the triggers for MVDS onset remain unclear, Dr. Vishal noted that pre-existing conditions such as anxiety, migraines, and motion sickness may contribute to the syndrome in several of his case studies.