Electrohypersensitivity or EHS
What is electrohypersensitivity or EHS? In it's fact sheet on EHS, the WHO describes it as follows. "For some time a number of individuals have reported a variety of health problems that they relate to exposure to EMF. While some individuals report mild symptoms and react by avoiding the fields as best they can, others are so severely affected that they cease work and change their entire lifestyle. This reputed sensitivity to EMF has been generally termed "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" or EHS.... EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to EMF. The symptoms most commonly experienced include dermatological symptoms (redness, tingling, and burning sensations) as well as neurasthenic and vegetative symptoms (fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances)."
The WHO and a number of other public health organizations have concluded that there is no significant evidence that exposure to EMF causes any of the symptoms associated with EHS. The following is a list of additional articles, web sites, and blogs which deal with the issue of electrohypersensitivity or EHS. The list includes a brief description of the materials that are referenced. All of these materials arrive at the same conclusion.
New EHS Study: Are media warnings of EHS self fulfilling?
Article by Rubin et al., published in the Journal of Psycosomatic Research Mar. 2013. From the conclusion: "No evidence was found to indicate that people with self reported sensitivity to mobile phone signals are able to detect such signals or that they react to them with increased symptom severity. As sham exposure was sufficient to trigger severe symptoms in some participants, psychological factors may have an important role in causing this condition".
The WHO sponsored a workshop on EHS which was held in Prague in October 2004. The proceedings from this conference are available by clicking on this link for the full proceedings (PDF 1.3 MB).
WHO EHS Workshop
One of the recommendations of this workshop was for the publication of a Fact Sheet to summarize the findings. Click on this link for the Fact Sheet Word document
WHO EHS Fact Sheet
The conclusion of the WHO Fact Sheet on EHS is that there is no connection between exposure to EMF and EHS symptoms. In reviewing the extensive studies on EHS and health, the Fact Sheet makes the following statements: "The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals. Well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure." "There are also some indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself."
The advisory Scientific Committee to the European Commission stated the following in its comprehensive report "Health Effect of Exposure to EMF" of Jan. 2009. "Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks" : "Regarding non-carcinogenic outcomes, several studies were performed on subjects reporting subjective symptoms. In the previous opinion, it was concluded that scientific studies had failed to provide support for a relationship between RF exposure and selfreported symptoms... the conclusion that scientific studies have failed to provide support for an effect of RF fields on self-reported symptoms still holds. Scientific studies have indicated that a nocebo effect (an adverse non-specific effect that is caused by expectation or belief that something is harmful) may play a role in symptom formation."
Health Council the Netherlands
In its 2008 executive summary of scientific research on EHS, the Health Council of the Netherlands has this to say about EHS: "Both in the living environment and in the laboratory, studies have been performed into a possible link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and the occurrence of symptoms. Several of these studies were not properly designed and cannot be used for the analysis. From the good quality scientific data emerges the picture that there is no causal relationship between exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields and the occurrence of symptoms. However, there is a relationship between symptoms and the assumption of being exposed and therefore most likely with the risk perception. Nevertheless, the symptoms do exist and require a solution."
EHS complaints: a literature review published between 2000 and 2004
Sci Total Environ. 2005 Oct 15;349(1-3):45-55. Epub 2005 Jun 21.
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) and subjective health complaints associated with electromagnetic fields of mobile phone communication--a literature review published between 2000 and 2004.
Seitz H, Stinner D, Eikmann T, Herr C, Röösli M.
Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany. firstname.lastname@example.org
Literature published between 2000 to 2004 concerning electromagnetic fields (EMF) of mobile communication and electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) or unspecific symptoms of ill health, respectively, is reviewed. Basically, literature from established databases was systematically searched for. For each study, the design and quality were evaluated by means of a criteria list in order to judge evidence for causality of exposures on effects. Finally, 13 studies of sufficient quality were considered for this review. In only one provocation study, individuals with self-reported electromagnetic hypersensitivity were exposed to EMF. Their perception of field status was no better than would have been expected by chance. Results of five randomised cross-over studies on impaired well-being due to mobile phone exposure were contradictory. Even though these studies would allow more reliable exposure assessment, they are limited due to short exposure period and the small study size. No firm conclusion could be drawn from a few observational epidemiological studies finding a positive association between exposure and unspecific symptoms of ill health due to methodological limitations. Causality of exposure and effect was not derivable from these cross-sectional studies as field status and health complaints were assessed at the same time. In addition, exposure assessment has not been validated. In conclusion, based on the limited studies available, there is no valid evidence for an association between impaired well-being and exposure to mobile phone radiation presently. However, the limited quantity and quality of research in this area do not allow to exclude long-term health effects definitely.
Review of 31 EHS Studies
The following article is an overview of 31 separate double blind studies in which self declared EHS individuals were subjected to various tests. It is based on studies such as these that the WHO reached its conclusions. From the abstract: The objectives of this study were to assess whether people who report hypersensitivity to weak electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are better at detecting EMF under blind or double-blind conditions than nonhypersensitive individuals, and to test whether they respond to the presence of EMF with increased symptom reporting. Conclusions: The symptoms described by "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" sufferers can be severe and are sometimes disabling. However, it has proved difficult to show under blind conditions that exposure to EMF can trigger these symptoms. This suggests that "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" is unrelated to the presence of EMF, although more research into this phenomenon is required.
Update Review of 46 EHS Studies
Rubin et al., the authors of the above overview of separate double blind studies, have recently published an update. The new study adds 15 to the original 31 for a total of 46 double blind EHS studies. This larger scale review article came to the same conclusion as all previous double blind studies: there is no evidence that EMF causes EHS. The following is a link to the original article. The following is the abstract:
Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF; formerly 'electromagetic hypersensitivity') is a medically unexplained illness in which subjective symptoms are reported following exposure to electrical devices. In an earlier systematic review, we reported data from 31 blind provocation studies which had exposed IEI-EMF volunteers to active or sham electromagnetic fields and assessed whether volunteers could detect these fields or whether they reported worse symptoms when exposed to them. In this article, we report an update to that review. An extensive literature search identified 15 new experiments. Including studies reported in our earlier review, 46 blind or double-blind provocation studies in all, involving 1175 IEI-EMF volunteers, have tested whether exposure to electromagnetic fields is responsible for triggering symptoms in IEI-EMF. No robust evidence could be found to support this theory. However, the studies included in the review did support the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in IEI-EMF sufferers. Despite the conviction of IEI-EMF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions. A narrow focus by clinicians or policy makers on bioelectromagnetic mechanisms is therefore, unlikely to help IEI-EMF patients in the long-term. Bioelectromagnetics 31:1-11, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Ben Goldacre Commentary
Ben Goldacre who runs the popular British web site dealing with Bad Science published the following commentary on the above 31 study overview: Factors that risk being left out of the equation. Goldacre provides an analysis of this study in an easy to understand layman like language. The same posting lists 6 additional studies to bring the total number of negative double blind EHS studies indentified by Goldacre to 37.
Sham radiation causes real pain
The following article appeared in The Economist magazine. It describes a study in which self reported EHS individuals were placed in a functional magnetic-resonance brain imager. They were alternately subjected to a real heat source and "sham" (fake) cell radiation. Pain centers in the brain "lit up" with the sham radiation. This finding is consistent with the view of the WHO that EHS may be a psychosomatic disorder. See Sham Radiation Real Pain.
Mind over body
In this article/interview from New Scientist magazine psychiatrist Simon Wessely responds to questions on his research into illnesses that are believed to have a psychosomatic origin including chronic fatigue syndrome and EHS. He had this to say about EHS: "My colleague James Rubin and I showed that people who believe they are sensitive to mobile phones aren't able to tell the difference between sham and real phone signals. So are these people all making it up? Of course not. They've got themselves into a situation where a mobile phone triggers symptoms, but it doesn't do so through electromagnetic radiation."
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