Phantom vibration syndrome among medical staff: a cross sectional survey

BMJ. 2010 Dec 15:341:c6914. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c6914.


Objective: To describe the prevalence of and risk factors for experiencing "phantom vibrations," the sensory hallucination sometimes experienced by people carrying pagers or cell phones when the device is not vibrating.

Design: Cross sectional survey.

Setting: Academic medical centre.

Participants: 176 medical staff who responded to questionnaire (76% of the 232 people invited). Measurements Electronic survey consisting of 17 questions about demographics, device use, phantom vibrations experienced, and attempts to stop them.

Results: Of the 169 participants who answered the question, 115 (68%, 95% confidence interval 61% to 75%) reported having experienced phantom vibrations. Most (68/112) who experienced phantom vibrations did so after carrying the device between 1 month and 1 year, and 13% experienced them daily. Four factors were independently associated with phantom vibrations: occupation (resident v attending physician, prevalence ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval 1.10 to 1.97), device location (breast pocket v belt, prevalence ratio 1.66, 1.29 to 2.14), hours carried (per 6 hour increment, prevalence ratio 1.30, 1.07 to 1.58), and more frequent use in vibrate mode (per frequency category, prevalence ratio 1.18, 1.03 to 1.34). Of those who experienced phantom vibrations, 43 (39%, 30% to 48%) were able to stop them. Strategies for stopping phantom vibrations included taking the device off vibrate mode, changing the location of the device, and using a different device (success rates 75% v 63% v 50%, respectively, P=0.217). However, 39% (30% to 49%) of respondents did not attempt any strategies.

Conclusions: Phantom vibration syndrome is common among those who use electronic devices.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff*
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Syndrome
  • Vibration*
  • Young Adult