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27 March 2018

Electrohypersensitivity: How to Diagnose It?

Jacques Lintermans, Pharmaceutical Consultant, Linkedin, 27 March 2018


Authors: Jacques Lintermans PhD ; Jean-Emile Vanderheyden MD neurologist ; André Vander Vorst, Professor Emeritus UCL, Belgium

Although there is a controversy regarding the physiological effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on human beings, the EMFs-attributed effects are life-disabling for some people. These are called electro-hypersensitive (EHS) and their prevalence in the population to day is estimated to a range of about 4-10%.

To diagnose EHS and submit those individuals to an appropriate treatment has become a medical challenge of significant importance.

The symptoms, however, are relatively non-specific and mainly related to the mental function; because physicians have no objective algorithms to diagnose EHS, these patients are most of the time declared relevant to psychiatry.

Objective diagnosis tests are therefore needed and some habe been tentatively developed: abnormal values of biochemical parameters observed in EHS individuals have been taken as biomarkers of their disorder and provocation tests were performed by checking those individuals' reaction in experimental EMFs exposure conditions.

To investigate biological effects, one distinguishes mainly three different ranges of frequencies: extremely low frequencies (ELF), of the order of 1 MHz for medical applications, and from about 100 MHz to 30 GHz for radio frequencies and microwaves (1).

The following methods are crtitically reviewed.

In Canada, alterations of the cardiac working are taken as a diagnostic tool in experimental exposure to microwave emitters (2); the autonomic nervous system is concerned while observed effects indicate bio-regulation without direct link to pathological states.

In France, out-of-normal values of a span of biomarkers have been observed in people complaining to be EHS (3); those alterations are lacking specificity and could reflect various pathological states. Most of the modified biomarkers have minor prevalence, except a raise of histamine and a depletion of melatonin which occured in respectively 40% and 90% of the cases. This methodology may be regarded as an advance to detect EHS because it is unlikely that repeated alterations of certain biomarkers in more than thousand patients suspected to be EHS happened by chance.

EEG is used in Russia to examine the effects of EMFs in the central nervous system, but no specific data are made available about EHS.

In Sweden, clinical observations were indicative of allergic symptoms to EMFs (4) and bring objective argument for EHS but this cannot be practically used as a diagnostic test.

In the United-Sates, MRI brain scans were performed in patients with EHS symptoms attributed to long term exposure to EMFs (5). Abnormality described as neuronal hyperconnectivity was observed. This test may thus be regarded as objective to diagnose EHS. However, all subjects in this experiment had a history of head injury or exposure to neurotoxic chemicals which may have had effects on the EHS pathology while this could restrict the claims of the test to an EHS sub-group.

In a German Laboratory, experimental microwave exposure is performed and reacting skin electric potentials are recorded in EMFs-free area (6). This test yields measurable results independant of psyche control. It is therefore a convincing diagnosis method of EHS. Its practical implementation is however time consuming and too sophisticated to be routinely used.

From this concept, to develop a technically analog but simpler test is now being considered overhere.

(1) Vander Vorst A, Rosen A, Kotsuka Y, RF/Microwave Interaction with Biological Tissues, New York: Wiley, 2006

(2) Havas M. et al., Provocation study using heart rate variability shows microwave radiation from 2.4 GHz cordless phone affects autonomic nervous system, Eur. J. Oncol-Library, 2010, Vol 5, 273-310

(3) Belpomme D. et al., Reliable disease biomarkers characterizing and identifying electrosensitivity and multiple chemical sensitivity as two etiopathogenic aspects of a unique pathological disorder, Rev Environ Health 2015; 30(4): 251-274

(4) Johansson D., Disturbance of the immune system by electromagnetic fields: the potentially underlying cause for cellular damage and tissue repair reduction which could lead to diseases and impairment, Pathophysiology 2009; 16(2-3):157-77

(5) Heuser G, Heuser SA., Functional brain MRI in patients complaining of electrohypersensitivity after long term exposure to electromagnetic fields, Rev Environ Health 2017; 32(3): 291-299

(6) Tuengler A, von Klitzing L., Hypothesis on how to measure electgromagnetic sensitivity, Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 2013; 32(3): 281-290


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