Exposure to electromagnetic fields and non-specific physical symptoms: a systematic review of observational studies.

Baliatsas, C., Kamp, I. van, Bolte, J., Schipper, M., Yzermans, J., Lebret, E. Exposure to electromagnetic fields and non-specific physical symptoms: a systematic review of observational studies. European Journal of Public Health: 2010, 20(suppl. 1), p. 243. Abstract. 3rd European Public Health Conference 'Integrated Public Health', 10 - 13 November 2010, Amsterdam.
Background: Various physical symptoms are attributed to environmental factors. EMF exposure is one of these but there is no convincing evidence of a causal relationship. The current review aims to address the strength of evidence for an association between actual and perceived exposure to EMF and non-specific physical symptoms. To gain more insight into the relationship between exposure and outcome a meta-analysis was performed. The role of demographic, environmental and psychological characteristics on symptom report is also investigated, accompanied by recommendations for future research. Methods: The following electronic databases were searched for the detection of observational studies that published between January 2000 and April 2010: Medline, Embase, SciSearch, PsychInfo, Psyndex and Biosis. In addition, a wide range of keywords was used, related to EMF exposure, subjective sensitivity to EMF and physical symptoms. Under specific inclusion criteria, 28 studies in the peer-reviewed literature were systematically identified. Results: There were important differences and methodological limitations among the reviewed studies in terms of symptom assessment, exposure characterization, the investigation of confounding factors and the use of criteria for identifying sensitive to EMF samples. Although results suggest that exposure to EMF is related to increased symptom report, they should be interpreted with caution because of the forenamed shortcomings. Psychological and social components seem to be related to symptom report, but evidence is still restricted. Conclusions: Improvement in exposure and outcome assessment and comparability of the future studies in these domains, the subdivision of EMF exposure into actual and perceived and the investigation of the role of psychological determinants are crucial factors in order to comprehend the mechanisms by which EMF exposure could lead to physical symptoms. (aut. ref.)