Psychosomatic Medicine

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Psychosomatic Medicine:
Review

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: A Systematic Review of Provocation Studies

Rubin, G James PhD; Munshi, Jayati Das MBBS; Wessely, Simon MD

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Abstract

Objectives: 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.

Methods: An extensive systematic search was used to identify relevant blind or double-blind provocation studies. This involved searching numerous literature databases and conference proceedings, and examining the citations of reviews and included studies. The results of relevant studies were tabulated and metaanalyses were used to compare the proportions of “hypersensitive” and control participants able to discriminate active from sham EMF exposures.

Results: Thirty-one experiments testing 725 “electromagnetically hypersensitive” participants were identified. Twenty-four of these found no evidence to support the existence of a biophysical hypersensitivity, whereas 7 reported some supporting evidence. For 2 of these 7, the same research groups subsequently tried and failed to replicate their findings. In 3 more, the positive results appear to be statistical artefacts. The final 2 studies gave mutually incompatible results. Our metaanalyses found no evidence of an improved ability to detect EMF in “hypersensitive” participants.

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.

EHS = electromagnetic hypersensitivity; EMF = electromagnetic field; SMD = standardized mean difference; UMTS = universal mobile telecommunications system (a “third-generation” mobile phone signal); VDU = visual display unit.

Copyright © 2005 by American Psychosomatic Society

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