Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS)

Introduction to EHS

EHS ClipartThe World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged “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 collection of symptoms is not part of any recognized syndrome.

EHS resembles multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), another disorder associated with low-level environmental exposures to chemicals.  Both EHS and MCS are characterized by a range of non-specific symptoms that lack apparent toxicological or physiological basis or independent verification.”

From an official WHO perspective, “The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals.”  On the other hand, “The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity.  Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual.”

Reference: “Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health,” WHO Fact Sheet N-296, December 2005.

At the website for Citizens (Canadians) 4 Safe Technology (C4ST), the symptoms for EHS are listed as follows:

C4ST Symptoms

Theory on Why Many Studies Have Difficulty in Confirming EHS

The video shown below provides a possible explanation on why many studies have difficulty confirming the existence of EHS in individuals.

The “16×9” investigative report mentioned in the above video is actually available on this website at the following webpage:


Also, please note an updated posting on the topic of heart rate variability due to exposure to RF radiation:


Interview with Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland

Despite the numerous reports of EHS and the WHO’s commentary that the majority of individuals who claim EHS symptoms cannot detect EMF exposure, it is somewhat ironic that Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of the World Health Organization and Convener of the World Commission on Environment and Development, openly claimed in 2002 to be afflicted with EHS.  Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland took office as Director General of the World Health Organization on July 21, 1998.  Her term of office ended on July 21, 2003.  Brundtland, a medical doctor, also served as the prime minister of Norway for more than ten years in the 1980s and 1990s.

What follows in this section is a translation of the cover story in Norwegian newspaper “Dagbladet” of March 9, 2002:

Mobile phone radiation gives Gro Harlem Brundtland headaches.
WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland (62), gets headaches from talking on a mobile phone.  That is not enough:  People in her proximity must turn their phones off in order to prevent discomfort.

By Aud Dalsegg; Saturday 9 March 2002

“It’s not the sound, but the waves I react on.  My hypersensitivity has gone so far that I even react on mobiles closer to me than about four metres,” Gro explains.  When we sit with her in her office at “Helsetilsynet” in Oslo she asks if there is an active mobile phone in the room.  She finds that she has developed a slight headache.  The cellular phone of the photographer was turned on but without sound in the pocket of his jacket.  The earlier Minister of State [Prime Minister] never had a mobile of her own, but she has close associates who do and she earlier often received calls on their phones.  She says there are reasons to be cautious about mobile phone use.  “In the beginning I felt a local warmth around my ear.  But the agony got worse, and turned into a strong discomfort and headaches every time I used a mobile phone,” Gro says.  She thought she could escape the pain by shorter calls, but it didn’t help.  Neither did it help that she herself stopped using a mobile phone.  Today it is a tool everybody uses, also at her workplace, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.  “I felt after a while that I had developed a sensitivity against the radiation.  And in order not to be thought to be hysterical – that someone should believe that this was just something I imagined – I have made several tests:  People have been in my office with their mobile hidden in their pocket or bag.  Without knowing if it was on or off, we have tested my reactions.  I have always reacted when the phone has been on – never when it’s off.  So there is no doubt.”

What about PCs? – “If I hold a laptop to read what’s on the screen, it feels like I get an electric shock through my arms.”…. The headache she gets from mobile radiation abates about half an hour to an hour after the radiation exposure stops.  Cannot stand wireless [phones]  Wireless phones, becoming more and more common in homes are said to radiate stronger than mobile phones [due to the lack of low power modes of DECT].  Gro cannot stand such [phones] either.  “I get an instant reaction if I touch such a phone”.

Do you advise against using a mobile phone? – “We do not have scientific evidence to go out with a clear warning.  …  But I understand the scientists who warn.  I think we have reason to be cautious, and not use the [mobile] phone more than necessary.  And the younger you are, the more reason to take this seriously.  I think you should follow the precautionary principle”, Gro Harlem Brundtland says.  Previously scientists and physicians have ignored hypersensitivity to electricity.  The Norwegian Association for Electro-sensitive felt the resistance to be so strong they closed down their work [they have since started again].  “But I am convinced this has to be taken seriously.  Some people develop sensitivity to electricity and radiation from equipment such as mobile phones or PCs.  If this sensitivity can lead to adverse health-effects as cancer or other diseases, we do not know yet.  But I think we should follow the precautionary principle, especially with regard to our children.”

Austrian Research Study to Determine Prevalence of EHS

A published article of interest is entitled, “Sensitivity to Electricity – Temporal Changes in Austria,” written by Joerg Schröttner and Norbert Leitgeb, 2008, and published online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562386/.

[Please note that the license for this Work authorizes “free use” of material as long as such use does not suggest that the authors of the Work necessarily endorse the way in which it is used or adapted.]

Selected quotations from the article are provided below:

“The aim of the present survey was to get actual data and to assess potential temporal changes of the prevalence of EMF-related concerns and hypersensitivity compared to the initial study of 1994.”

“An increasing number of persons suffer from non-specific health symptoms such as headache, sleep disturbances, difficulties in concentrating and more.  In lack of a medical explanation, more and more persons take refuge to the assumption that they were EHS and electromagnetic pollution causes their problems.  So far, the results of experimental studies on EHS have been contradictory, leaving it still open whether a causal link between exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) below the recommended reference levels and reported health symptoms actually exists.”

“To assess the prevalence of EMF-related problems, an inquiry among Austrian general practitioners has been recently performed.  The results showed that there is a widespread contradiction between physician’s opinion and the judgment of national and international health risk assessment bodies.  An overwhelming percentage of general practitioners (96%) to at least some degree believed in the effects of environmental electromagnetic fields on health, and only 39% have never associated health symptoms with electromagnetic pollution.  A similar discrepancy between physician’s opinions and established scientific assessment was shown in an inquiry study including 342 interviews of physicians in Switzerland.”

“In 1994 Leitgeb investigated the EHS issue and first estimated the potential EHS subgroup to be less than 2% of the general population. … Electrosensitivity (the ability to perceive electricity) was assessed [based results published in 1998] by a quantitative parameter, namely the perception threshold of directly applied electric 50 Hz currents.  The analysis of double-blind perception measurements at a sample of 606 persons indicated the presence of a subgroup of 2% with significantly increased sensitivity.  Further investigations of electric current perception thresholds on an extended sample of the general population confirmed the initial finding of a 2% electro-sensitive subgroup with significantly increased perception threshold [based on study results from 2003 and 2007].”

“This study shows that the actual percentage of persons claiming to be electromagnetic hypersensitive amounts to 3.5%, which is almost twice compared to the potential of 2% formerly estimated by Leitgeb in 1994, based on measurements of the electric current perception.  A comparison of reported EHS prevalence’s of different studies faces methodological problems, because objective EHS-criteria are lacking and classifications as EHS are quite different among the studies.”

The published article described above gives perspective on the prevalence of individuals in our society who may be afflicted with EHS.  Although the WHO may not formally recognize that EHS symptoms are caused by RF emissions, it is remarkable to note that an overwhelming majority of medical practitioners in Austria and Switzerland, based upon survey results, believe that electromagnetic fields have an effect on health.  The abovementioned Austrian research study supports a viewpoint that physicians and other medical professionals are much more convinced of RF emissions affecting human health than are certain bureaucratic scientific bodies and those that promote the advancement and proliferation of wireless technology.

Additional Perspective

To offer some additional perspective, it will be mentioned that Russian and Chinese RF exposure guidelines are about 100 times more conservative than most so-called Western countries.  Both sets of guidelines are considered science-based.  The Russian and Chinese guidelines, however, acknowledge that so-called non-thermal RF exposure effects do occur based upon biological experiments with animals and case studies with individuals.  Scientists observe a range of effects, such as changes in electroencephalogram (EEG) readings, induction of autoimmune responses (formation of antibodies to brain tissues), stress-reactions, as wells as adverse effects for blood serum results.  It cannot be claimed with certainty that all observed effects are pathological and/or irreversible, but in any case, it is concluded that such effects influence the physical and mental well being of affected individuals and therefore constitute a health hazard.

In the United States and most other Western countries, exposure standards are primarily based upon engineering calculations assessing short-term thermal effects of RF energy on human tissue, such as burning or electric shock.  For chronic exposures, non-thermal considerations were not included for the US and most western European exposure guidelines due to a claimed “paucity of reliable data on chronic exposures.”  Russian scientists, on the other hand, argue that RF exposure guidelines based upon chronic exposure levels and interactions are more representative of the real world experience of the population and thus are more appropriate than exposure to acute situations at thermal exposure levels which are rarely encountered.  Furthermore, Russian scientists assert that the establishment of threshold levels based solely on thermal considerations makes the assumption that an organism will compensate or adapt to non-thermal RF exposure effects and that there is no basis for this assumption.


In medical science, not all results are consistent due to biological variability.  We are all the product of thousands of genes that interact with each other and the environment in unpredictable ways.  Each individual is unique.  Not every smoker dies of cancer.  Some people are allergic to eggs and most are not.  One may be allergic to peanuts while another is not.  We don’t all have the same side effects from taking prescription drugs, and we can’t all be expected to respond in the same way to electromagnetic insults.   Just because everyone is not affected by RF radiation doesn’t mean that no one is affected.

Whether or not the exposure guidelines for the United States and most other Western countries recognize adverse effects from non-thermal levels of RF radiation, more and more physicians are recognizing that RF emission levels far below established exposure guidelines are affecting their patients.  Symptoms related to EHS and other ailments are relieved when RF radiation levels are reduced.  Furthermore, more and more research studies document physiological effects from low levels of RF exposure.  Although it is not fully understand why low-level RF emissions seem to affect some individuals and not others, an increasing number of physicians are concluding that some medical conditions are either caused or aggravated by RF emissions.

Additional References:  Published Articles and Research Studies

  1. “Electromagnetic Field Sensitivity,”  William J. Rea, Journal of Bioelectricity, 10(1&2), 241-256 (1991).  Note:  It was noted that Dr. Rea publicly posted his own article as part of comments on an FCC Notice of Inquiry; the link is as follows:  http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7520937449.
  2. “Electromagnetic hypersensitive Finns:  Symptoms, perceived sources and treatments, a questionnaire study,” published February 2013.  Refer to link:  http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0928-4680/PIIS0928468013000023.pdf.
  3. “Guideline of the Austrian Medical Association for the diagnosis and treatment of EMF related health problems and illnesses (EMF syndrome),” March 2012.  Refer to link:  Austrian Medical Association Guidelines.
  4. “Cognitive and neurobiological alterations in electromagnetic hypersensitive patients: results of a case-control study,” Cambridge University Press, 2008.  Refer to link for abstract:   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18366821.
  5. “Electromagnetic hypersensitivity:  Fact or fiction?”, Genuis SJ, Lipp CT,  Science of the Total Environment (2011).  Refer to link:  http://www.drmyhill.co.uk/drmyhill/images/e/e6/Electromagnetic_hypersensitivity-_Fact_or_fiction.pdf.  [The link provided for this informative article is the “Article in Press” version available at several links on the Internet.  For the final published version and to the purchase the entire article or request “permissions” on re-use of the article, refer to the following additional link:  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969711012733.]
  6. “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity:  Evidence for a Novel Neurological Syndrome,” International Journal of Neuroscience, December 2011, Vol. 121, No.12, Pages 670-676.  Refer to link for abstract: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00207454.2011.608139.
  7. “Sensitivity-related illness: The escalating pandemic of allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity,” Stephen J. Genuis, Science of the Total Environment (2010).  Refer to link for availability:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20920818.   Note:  Although not indicative from the title or abstract, the article provides a good explanation on how impaired tolerance and hypersensitivity can cause multi-system clinical symptoms based upon triggers and associated reactions originating from multiple sources including direct chemical exposure, inhalants, foodstuffs, biological triggers such as molds, and electromagnetic radiation.  Pictured below is a figure adapted from the article.


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