Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer Home           Home Home           Home About  site   About  site About  site   About  site About  me    About  me About  me    About  me Current reading   Current reading Current reading   Current reading CONTACT   CONTACT CONTACT   CONTACT Links                  Links Links                  Links Book shelves      Book shelves Book shelves      Book shelves
Blog Archive    Blog Archive Blog Archive    Blog Archive Recent posts  Recent posts Recent posts  Recent posts

Medically unexplained symptoms, electricity, and the

general population

Occasionally, new papers get published about electrohypersensitivity or, more specifically, idiopathic  environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF). I have written about this before,  and we still do not know whether it exists or not (although, I suppose, that depends a bit on who you are  talking to).   Anyway, a new paper got published in the journal Bioelectromagnetics last month, entitled “Does  electromagnetic hypersensitivity originate from nocebo responses? Indications from a qualitative study.”  You can find the paper here <link>  In a nutshell, it is a qualitative study in which forty self-diagnosed electrohypersensitive people got  interviewed and asked whether they first thought exposure to electromagnetic fields is bad and then got  ill, or whether they first got ill and then thought it was because of electromagnetic fields. The first  sequence of events would be a classic nocebo response, or in other words people think they get ill from  something and subsequently become ill when they think they are exposed (the opposite of the well-known  placebo effect, so you will), while the second order of events supposedly indicates that the nocebo effect  is not present and people do get ill from the exposure to the electromagnetic fields. Looking through the  paper it turns out that for 25 of the 40 participants the EHS self-diagnosis was done over 2 years ago, so at  that point one really needs to start wondering how helpful this study is: after all, it is trying to  disentangle a set of events for which it is pretty difficult to establish exactly when they first occurred,  and which most likely happened very close together in time. To be honest to the author, he (I think) open  up the complete book of tricks and skills required to get the best information possible in this case. I am  however, not very convinced that the approach itself is a very useful method to try and shed some light on  this particular problem.  The author concludes that his results do not point to the nocebo effect as an explanation for  electrohypersensitivity because a majority of participants  sought, and failed to obtain, medical  assistance, and as a result started questioning effects of electromagnetic fields in their environment on  their health. I would say that’s rather dubious given the methodology used and the fact that of the 40,  only 23 claimed to have never heard of electromagnetic fields before reaching the relevant stage in the  attribution process, which seems very unlikely. Indeed, the results are pretty ambiguous and do not  exclude the nocebo effect (in combination with their self-attribution of the cause).   I think what the author and I agree on is that electrohypersensitivity is a form of MUS (medically  unexplained symptoms) which they attribute to electromagnetic fields, without much evidence that this is  the case….but I guess this is what the majority of researchers in the field belief (I’d say 97%, but that  would get this muddled up with climate change). As also previously mentioned by many people, that does  not mean this is not an illness; it’s not great suffering from this (and that is an understatement). Luckily, it  seems cognitive behavioural therapy can help.  So anyway, in summary, we have not learned much news from this paper.  What it does provide though is a table of the reported symptoms attributed to the electromagnetic field  exposure from, primarily wifi routers, mobile phone base stations, mobile phones, DECT phones and  electric home appliances, by this group of people. That list shows an interesting, and very close,  resemblance to a list of general subjective health symptoms that everybody occasionally suffers  from…some more than others. In a 1999 paper from Norway, researchers developed a scoring system to get  a handle behind how often these kind of problems occur in the normal, lay population. You can find the  paper here <link>.  So let’s take a step back before going all crazy about causality. I have copied the table from the  electrohypersensitivity group, calculated the percentages, and added the same (average men and women)  from the normal, lay population, just to see if we are actually talking about a problem at all. They don’t  all match up, but have a look below:    I don’t know what you think about this comparison, but given that this was a self-selected group of  electrohypersensitive people, I was quite surprised how comparable the numbers are. What it really looks  like is that this is a group of people not that dissimilar from the general population, who attribute things  everybody is occasionally unconvenienced by to a specific exposure (electromagnetic fields in this case).   Having said that, as a group they could do with better sleep!  This table does not cover the frequency of the symptoms, which may or may not be different from the  normal population. Presumably, once the connection is made these occur more often if exposure is  perceived (Although blinded trials have not shown any direct link).  In conclusion, unfortunately we have not learned anything new from this paper except, maybe, that IEI- EMF are not that dissimilar from everyone else. And that, I would say, is quite informative….  
Back   Back Back   Back