Do people with idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields display physiological effects when exposed to electromagnetic fields? A systematic review of provocation studies

Bioelectromagnetics. 2011 Dec;32(8):593-609. doi: 10.1002/bem.20690. Epub 2011 Jul 18.


Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) is a controversial illness in which people report symptoms that they believe are triggered by exposure to EMF. Double-blind experiments have found no association between the presence of EMF and self-reported outcomes in people with IEI-EMF. No systematic review has assessed whether EMF exposure triggers physiological or cognitive changes in this group. Using a systematic literature search, we identified 29 single or double-blind experiments in which participants with IEI-EMF were exposed to different EMF levels and in which objectively measured outcomes were assessed. Five studies identified significant effects of exposure such as reduced heart rate and blood pressure, altered pupillary light reflex, reduced visual attention and perception, improved spatial memory, movement away from an EMF source during sleep and altered EEG during sleep. In most cases, these were isolated results that other studies failed to replicate. For the sleep EEG findings, the results reflected similar changes in the IEI-EMF participants and a non-IEI-EMF control group. At present, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that people with IEI-EMF experience unusual physiological reactions as a result of exposure to EMF. This supports suggestions that EMF is not the main cause of their ill health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / diagnosis
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / etiology*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / physiopathology*
  • Perception / physiology
  • Psychophysiology