Epidemiological study (observational study)

Clinically defined non-specific symptoms in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations: A retrospective before-after study.

Published in: Sci Total Environ 2016; 565: 714-720

Aim of study (acc. to author)

A retrospective cohort study was conducted in the Netherlands to test possible changes in prevalence and number of non-specific symptoms in relation to exposure to mobile phone base stations before and after increase of installed antennas at mobile phone base stations.

Further details

Data for the baseline period (January - December 2004) were collected retrospectively for the study population of the cross-sectional study by Baliatsas et al. (2015). Inclusion criteria were availability of complete electronic health record data, comparability of symptom data in terms of registration methodology and living in the same house in 2004 and 2011.
Categorization into sensitivity to mobile phone base stations was based on the reports of the participants in 2011.

Endpoint/type of risk estimation

Type of risk estimation:
  • prevalence




  • Group:
    • men
    • women
  • Age: ≥ 18 years
  • Characteristics: residents living in a radius of 500 m to a base station
  • Observation period: January - December 2004, follow-up July 2010 - June 2011
  • Study location: Netherlands

Study size

Total 5,933
Evaluable 1,069
Statistical analysis method:
  • logistic regression
  • Poisson regression model
( adjustment:
  • age
  • sex
  • house ownership status

Conclusion (acc. to author)

Overall 55 participants reported to be electrosensitive to mobile phone base stations in 2011.
There was an increase in the total number of antennas at mobile phone base stations of 30% in the period 2004-2011. Mean total calculated electric field strength was 0.10 (±0.15) V/m in 2004 and 0.104 (±0.15) in 2011 for the electrosensitive group; for the rest of the sample mean exposure levels were 0.11 (±0.23) V/m and 0.12 (±0.23) V/m respectively.
A higher prevalence for most non-specific symptoms was observed in the electrosensitive group in 2011 compared to baseline. Exposure estimates were not associated with general practitioner registered non-specific symptoms in the total sample. However, some significant interactions were observed between electrosensitivity and exposure estimates on risk of symptoms.
The authors concluded that by using clinically defined outcomes and a time difference of 6 years it was demonstrated that radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure to mobile phone base stations was not associated with the development of non-specific symptoms. Nonetheless, there was some indication for a higher risk of non-specific symptoms for the electrosensitive group, mainly in relation to exposure to UMTS, but this should be interpreted with caution.

Study funded by

  • ZonMw, The Netherlands

Related articles

  • Martens AL et al. (2017): Modeled and Perceived Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields From Mobile-Phone Base Stations and the Development of Symptoms Over Time in a General Population Cohort.
  • Porsius JT et al. (2015): Symptom reporting after the introduction of a new high-voltage power line: A prospective field study.
  • Baliatsas C et al. (2015): Actual and perceived exposure to electromagnetic fields and non-specific physical symptoms: an epidemiological study based on self-reported data and electronic medical records.
  • Baliatsas C et al. (2014): Comparing non-specific physical symptoms in environmentally sensitive patients: prevalence, duration, functional status and illness behavior.
  • Kato Y et al. (2012): Reported functional impairments of electrohypersensitive Japanese: A questionnaire survey.
  • Bortkiewicz A et al. (2012): Subjective complaints of people living near mobile phone base stations in Poland.
  • Frei P et al. (2012): Cohort study on the effects of everyday life radio frequency electromagnetic field exposure on non-specific symptoms and tinnitus.
  • Alazawi SA (2011): Mobile Phone Base Stations Health Effects.
  • Baliatsas C et al. (2011): Non-specific physical symptoms in relation to actual and perceived proximity to mobile phone base stations and powerlines.
  • Mohler E et al. (2010): Effects of everyday radiofrequency electromagnetic-field exposure on sleep quality: a cross-sectional study.
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  • Blettner M et al. (2009): Mobile phone base stations and adverse health effects: phase 1 of a population-based, cross-sectional study in Germany.
  • Berg-Beckhoff G et al. (2009): Mobile phone base stations and adverse health effects: phase 2 of a cross-sectional study with measured radio frequency electromagnetic fields.
  • Augner C et al. (2009): Are people living next to mobile phone base stations more strained? Relationship of health concerns, self-estimated distance to base station, and psychological parameters.
  • Thomas S et al. (2008): Personal exposure to mobile phone frequencies and well-being in adults: a cross-sectional study based on dosimetry.