Research and analysis

Electrical sensitivity: definition, epidemiology and management

This report (HPA-RPD-010) considers the subjective attribution of symptoms to electric and magnetic fields and radiations.

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This review considers electrical sensitivity (ES) in terms of the subjective attribution of symptoms to electric and magnetic fields and radiations, at levels below those shown to cause adverse health effects. The use of the term ES in this review does not imply the acceptance of a causal relationship between symptoms and attributed exposure, however.

The starting point for this review is recognition of the need to consider ES in terms other than its aetiology, as this position alone is failing to meet the needs of those who consider themselves affected by ES.

The review was commissioned to identify and appraise the literature in order to describe and define ES, review the information on its course, prognosis and treatments, and examine its overlap with other conditions such as multiple chemical sensitivity. Specifically excluded from the review were attributed health effects in terms of specific disease processes, and examination of the ongoing debate around the aetiology of ES.

ES symptoms can be broadly grouped into facial skin symptoms attributed to exposure to visual display units and more general, non-specific symptoms across a range of body systems. Neurological symptoms such as headache and fatigue predominate in this latter group. There may be progression from skin-only symptoms to more generalised symptoms, although this may be relevant only to Sweden.