Although there is a controversy regarding the physiological effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on human beings, the EMF-attributed effects are life-disabling for some people. These are called electrohypersensitive (EHS) and their prevalence in the population today is estimated to be in 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 psychology or even psychiatry.
Objective diagnosis tests are therefore needed and some have 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’ reactions in experimental EMF 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 (2).
The following methods are critically reviewed.
In Canada alterations of Heart Rate (HR) are taken as a diagnostic tool in experimental exposure to microwave emitters (3); the autonomic nervous system is appropriately concerned since it is also exacerbated in electrohypersensitivity. Good results are obtained but, irrelevant to the provocation, some increase of HR may occur because of emotional reactions of the subject, giving rise to possible wrong conclusions.
EEG is used in Russia to examine the effects of EMF in the central nervous system but no specific data are made available about EHS.
In Sweden, EMF exposure-related cutaneous inflammation is clinically observed (5) and brings objective argument for electrohypersensitivity but this cannot be practically used as a diagnosis test because of its invasive character.
In the United-States, MRI brain scans were performed in patients with electrohypersensitivity symptoms attributed to long term exposure to EMFs (6). 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 in an EMF-free area. Alterations of blood micro-circulation, of Heart Rate and reacting skin electric potentials are recorded (7). Those tests yield good and objectively measurable results. The described procedure is, however, long and complicated to implement.
New Test Method
- The test
It is based on the Galvanic Skin Response of a subject in exposure conditions to EMFs. The principle is to measure electric current variations provoked by conductivity alterations in the skin. Electrodermal activity, also known as galvanic skin response GSR, measures the activity of the autonomic nervous system. Our level of emotional arousal changes in response to the environment we’re in – if something is emotionally relevant, a subsequent change in physiological response that we experience is an increase of eccrine sweat gland activity. In the present case, a neurophysiologic alteration such as a feeling of pressure in the eyes or head of a hypersensitive subject in exposure conditions to microwaves is associated by this subject with an impression of sudden threat, triggering a stress reaction. The GSR system yields measurable results which are objective because not having been obtained by the subject’s self-evaluation of the effects, as they are in other used tests.
- The Subject
The day before and the test day on the way to the test place, the subject is warned to avoid, as much as reasonably possible, proximity of public and domestic EMF emitters. During all the time of the test, the subject is relaxingly sitting in an EMF-clean nice-looking room with a soft music background while an operator-assistant is gently chatting with him/her and catch his/her attention in order to prevent any feeling of worry. One hand palm of the subject is equipped by two little plugs containing electrodes (fig.1) while the corresponding arm is motionlessly resting. The subject is not aware of the operations in progress but has beforehand been fully informed of the experimental protocol and is at any time able to discontinue his/her attendance.
- The testing material
An apparatus for GSR is described in the hereunder references (8).
- The testing procedure
The recording devices and the operator are out of the sight of the subject, for instance by curtain masking. Steady state conditions are settled, the exposure effects being recorded when the subject is relieved of any concern, helped by the assistant’s distracting support. This can be checked by a small battery-working device put on a finger-tip of the subject (Fig.2) and continuously measuring his heart rate (HR), a significant rise of which reflecting a nervous state. When a normal level of HR is observed, a little signal is sent by the assistant to the operator who, without the subject’s knowledge, switches on a near but hidden cordless phone emitting 2.4GHz microwave radiation. This exposure is maintained until GSR has increased but will last for an hour if no response is observed. HR may also be increased. This makes a difference from other experimental conditions of tests when too short exposure time is used, and thus avoids confusion between a negative electrohypersensitivity state and some possible late sensitivity reaction.
It is assumed that, whenever existing, electrohypersensitivity can be detected in those experimental conditions because this test yields quantitative results while being independent of psyche control.
Being not invasive, not long-lasting and not dramatizing for the subject, this new experimental method is proposed to be tried and possibly used by specializing clinical Institutions and doctors clinics since being objective, relatively inexpensive and rather uncomplicated to be implemented. If successfully demonstrated, such a way to diagnose EHS patients should become a significant advance in a so far unclear pathological domain.
It must be honestly acknowledged that, like all tests, this one may experience failures and is therefore made to help diagnose electrohypersensitivity but not to discredit possibly not responding people who are EHS.
(2) Vander Vorst A, Rosen A, Kotsuka Y, RF/Microwave Interaction with Biological Tissues, New York: Wiley, 2006
(3) Havas M. et al., Provocation study using heart rate variability shows microwave radiation from 2.4Ghz cordless phone affects autonomic nervous system, Eur.J.Oncol-Library, 2010, Vol 5, 273-310
(4) 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
(5) 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 disease and impairment, Pathophysiology 2009; 16(2-3):157-77
(6) 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
(7) Tuengler A, von Klitzing L., Hypothesis on how to measure electromagnetic sensitivity, Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 2013; 32(3) : 281-290
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