Epidemiological study (observational study)

Actual and perceived exposure to electromagnetic fields and non-specific physical symptoms: an epidemiological study based on self-reported data and electronic medical records.

Published in: Int J Hyg Environ Health 2015; 218 (3): 331-344

Aim of study (acc. to author)

A health survey of adults in the Netherlands was combined with the electronic medical records to investigate actual and perceived exposure to electromagnetic fields and non-specific physical symptoms.

Endpoint/type of risk estimation

Type of risk estimation:
  • prevalence




  • Group:
    • men
    • women
  • Age: ≥ 18 years
  • Observation period: January 2011 - June 2011
  • Study location: Netherlands

Study size

Total 76,684
Eligible 13,007
Participants 5,933
Participation rate 46 %
Statistical analysis method:
  • linear regression
  • logistic regression

Conclusion (acc. to author)

The most prevalent self-reported symptoms in the study population were fatigue (54%), neck or shoulder symptoms (39%), headache (38%) and back pain (36%). Among the respondents 202 (3.5%) were considered as hypersensitive to EMF.
Perceived exposure by study participants had a poor correlation with the actual exposure estimates. No significant association was observed between modeled radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure and the investigated outcomes. Associations with non-specific physical symptoms were found for use of an electric blanket and close distance to an electric charger during sleep. Perceived exposure, perceived control and avoidance behavior were associated with the examined outcomes. The association between perceived exposure was stronger for self-reported than for general practitioners-registered non-specific physical symptoms. There was some indication, but no consistent pattern for an interaction between idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI-EMF) and the association between actual exposure and non-specific physical symptoms.
The authors conclude that there is no convincing evidence for an association between everyday life radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure and non-specific physical symptoms and sleep quality in the population. Better exposure characterization, in particular with respect to sources of extremely low frequency magnetic fields is needed to draw more solid conclusions. The authors argue that perceived exposure is an independent determinant of non-specific physical symptoms.

Study funded by

  • ZonMw, The Netherlands

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