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Author's personal copy
Pathophysiology 19 (2012) 95–100
Reported functional impairments of electrohypersensitive Japanese:
A questionnaire survey
Yasuko Katoa,∗, Olle Johanssonb
aVOC-EMF Measures Research Association, Sapporo, Japan
bThe Experimental Dermatology Unit, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Received 17 November 2011; received in revised form 13 January 2012; accepted 19 February 2012
An increasing number of people worldwide complain that they have become electromagnetic hypersensitive (EHS). We conducted a
questionnaire survey of EHS persons in Japan. The aim was to identify electromagnetic ﬁelds (EMF) and plausible EMF sources that caused
their symptoms. Postal questionnaires were distributed via a self-help group, and 75 participants (95% women) responded. Reported major
complaints were “fatigue/tiredness” (85%), “headache”, “concentration, memory, and thinking” difﬁculty (81%, respectively). Seventy-two
per cent used some form of complementary/alternative therapy. The most plausible trigger of EHS onset was a mobile phone base station or
personal handy-phone system (37%). Sixty-ﬁve percent experienced health problems to be due to the radiation from other passengers’ mobile
phones in trains or buses, and 12% reported that they could not use public transportation at all. Fifty-three percent had a job before the onset,
but most had lost their work and/or experienced a decrease in income. Moreover, 85.3% had to take measures to protect themselves from
EMF, such as moving to low EMF areas, or buying low EMF electric appliances. EHS persons were suffering not only from their symptoms,
but also from economical and social problems.
© 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Electrohypersensitivity (EHS); Electromagnetic ﬁelds (EMF); Mobile phone base stations; Cell phones; Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)
Use of wireless devices, such as mobile phones and WiFi,
have spread remarkably during the last few decades. They
have made life more convenient, but now many persons
complain of various symptoms attributed to exposures to
electromagnetic ﬁelds (EMF). Major symptoms include skin
irritation, neurological and cardiac problems as well as diges-
tive difﬁculties . The World Health Organization (WHO)
ofﬁcially recognizes the existence of these people and elec-
trohypersensitivity (EHS) as a new syndrome, but it denies
the causal relationship between EHS and EMF .
People who self-report sensitivity to EMF have been
described in western countries. In Sweden, the prevalence of
EHS was initially estimated at 1.5% , but another newer
∗Corresponding author at: VOC-EMF Measures Research Association,
471, Bankei, Chuou-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, 064-0945, Japan.
Tel.: +81 11 613 1984; fax: +81 11 613 1984.
E-mail address: email@example.com (Y. Kato).
estimation indicates that 230,000–290,000 (2.6–3.2%) report
EMF sensitivity . In Austria, the prevalence was estimated
at less than 2% in 1994, but in 2001 it had increased to 3.5%
. In Switzerland, 5% of the population has been estimated
as EHS . In California, the prevalence of self-reported
sensitivity to EMF was 3.2%, with 24.4% of those surveyed
reporting sensitivity to chemicals .
There have been no estimations of EHS prevalence in
Asian countries. Although there is no clear consensus for
EHS diagnosis, seven EHS cases (6 women) were diag-
nosed, by a specialist of environmental medicine at Kitazato
University Hospital in Japan, employing neurophysiologi-
cal function tests, such as vegetative nerve function test by
pupillary light reﬂex, smooth pursuit eye movement test,
and brain oxygen content by EMF loading test. In the EMF
loading test, a coil connected to an EMF generator was
placed around the patient’s neck, and oxygen contents on
the brain surface were monitored using near-infrared spec-
troscopy (Hamamatsu Photonics Co. Ltd., Japan), by EMF
exposure of 10 kHz, 100 kHz and 1 MHz . One man and
0928-4680/$ – see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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96 Y. Kato, O. Johansson / Pathophysiology 19 (2012) 95–100
two of the women were also diagnosed with multiple chemi-
cal sensitivity (MCS). They exhibited a variety of symptoms,
such as headache, tiredness, palpitation, dizziness and nau-
sea. They reported that major EMF sources that caused their
symptoms included mobile phones and their base stations,
personal computers, power lines, ﬂuorescent lights and elec-
tric appliances in homes. The persons were advised to avoid
EMF exposures, to take antioxidants, and to try diet therapy,
such as reducing sweeteners and increasing vegetables.
The prevalence of EHS in Japan, however, remains to be
clariﬁed along with major complaints and plausible EMF
sources that cause subjective symptoms.
The aim of this survey was to study the subjective
symptoms reported by Japanese persons complaining of sen-
sitivity to EMF, plausible EMF sources that cause their
symptoms and EHS onset, used medical care as well as
complementary alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, and
economical/social problems related to their health problems.
2. Subjects and methods
Postal questionnaires were distributed via a website and
a bulletin of a self-help group for EHS and MCS people in
Japan from June to October in 2009. The membership count
of the group was about 200 and they were living throughout
Japan. We received 83 responses, but eight responses were
incompletely ﬁled, thus the valid responses totaled 75 (71
females and 4 males) out of the population of 200 and their
average age was 51.2 (19–81) years (40–49 years old 36.0%,
50–59 years 30.7%, and 60–69 years 18.7%). The medically
diagnosed EHS was reported by 45.3% while 49.3% were
self-diagnosed as EHS, and 5.3% considered themselves sen-
sitive to EMF but not to be EHS (Table 1).
In the questionnaire, we asked their subjective symp-
toms attributed to EMF, suspected EMF sources that caused
symptoms, and plausible EMF sources related to the onset.
Furthermore the responders reported their therapies, CAM
included and their satisfaction, costs of EMF measures, and
concerns related to EMF, especially utilization of public
transportation and the problems caused by other passengers’
To survey their subjective symptoms, a list of 43 types of
symptoms including skin problems, neurological symptoms,
and digestive difﬁculties was prepared by referring to symp-
toms in previous studies [8,9]. Participants checked all items
Proportion of electromagnetically hypersensitive (EHS) and multiple chem-
ical sensitive (MCS) Japanese persons studied (n= 75).
Diagnosed 34 (45.3%) 37 (49.3%)
Concerned 37(49.3%) 20 (26.7%)
Sensitive to EMF/chemical 4 (5.3%) 11 (14.7%)
Not to be MCS – 7 (9.3%)
Total 75 75
that applied to themselves. However, we did not ask about
the frequency or the strength of these symptoms.
As plausible EMF sources that caused subjective symp-
toms, 39 EMF sources, such as mobile phones, personal
computers and power lines were listed. Regarding suspected
EMF source that cause EHS onset, we asked the participants
to ﬁll in EMF sources that they regarded the most plausible.
Often the EMF sources that caused complaints (daily trig-
gers) differed from the suspected EMF sources related to the
onset (initial triggers). Many people complained that envi-
ronmental EMF sources had gradually increased in number
and their health condition had become worse. Our aim, how-
ever, was to investigate what EMF sources were attributed to
by the participants, not to prove a causal relationship between
EMF exposure and symptoms.
Participants were asked what CAM they used, and how
satisﬁed they were with it. CAM items included dietary ther-
apy, acupuncture/moxibustion, aromatherapy, balneotherapy,
chiropractic, energy healing, ﬂower essence, herbs, home-
opathy, Japanese herbal medicine, kinesiology, osteopathy,
qigong, supplements and yoga. Acupuncture, moxibustion,
and Japanese herbal medicine are covered by the public
health insurance in Japan. Because these therapies are clas-
siﬁed as CAM in western countries, we added them as CAM
in this study. Participants’ satisfaction was rated on a scale
of 0–3. The questionnaire choice was scored as “none” or
“unknown”=0, “little good” = 1, “so-so good”=2, and “very
good” = 3.
Previous studies have noted that people who complained
of sensitivity to EMF had reduced income or were inca-
pacitated for work due to their complaints [3,7,10]. The
participants were asked about changes in monthly income,
as well as the costs and kinds of EMF-reducing measures
they had employed.
We also asked the participants about their daily problems
attributed to EMF, such as experiences of bad health con-
dition aboard public transportation due to other passengers’
mobile phone radiation, and concerns about the construction
of mobile phone base stations.
The Statistical Package for Biosciences (SPBS) was used
for analysis. The results have been presented as means and
S.D. Differences among groups were determined by the
Every second responder had medically diagnosed MCS
(49.3%) and self-diagnosed MCS had 26.7%. Those who
were not MCS, but considered themselves sensitive to chem-
icals were 14.7%, and those reporting “not to be MCS” were
only 9.3%. When the numbers in the “diagnosed as MCS”
and “self-diagnosed as MCS” were compared with the corre-
sponding EHS groups, 76.0% were found in both categories.
When asked who of the responders had self-diagnosed as
EHS, why they did not seek hospital treatment, the reasons
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Y. Kato, O. Johansson / Pathophysiology 19 (2012) 95–100 97
0 20 40 60 80 100
Stiff nack or back
Sluggish in the head
Difficulty with concentration
Fig. 1. Major subjective symptoms reported by Japanese electromagneti-
cally hypersensitive persons (n= 75).
were “no hospital nearby” (51.4%)”, “difﬁcult to go out due
to sensitivity” (21.6%), “no proper information about hospi-
tals” (18.9%), “it did not seem to be an emergency” (10.8%),
and/or “too little money for consultation” (5.4%). One person
had succeeded to make an appointment for consultation at a
specialist hospital, but she had to wait for six months.
Thirty-ﬁve responders (46.7%) had chronic diseases or
allergies, such as hay fever (5), rhinitis (4), asthma (3)
and high blood pressure (3), food allergy, atopic dermatitis,
rheumatism, and benign uterine ﬁbroid tumors (2, respec-
3.1. Reported symptoms and sources
Major subjective symptoms reported among the EHS
persons included “fatigue/tiredness”, and “headache”, “difﬁ-
culty of concentration, remembering and thinking” (Fig. 1).
The average number of symptoms was 20 in the medically
diagnosed group, 17 in the self-diagnosed group, and 6.5
in the “sensitive to EMF” group (Table 2). When we com-
pared the number of symptoms in the medically diagnosed
group with those of the other two groups, we found it signif-
icantly higher (p< 0.05) than that of the “sensitive to EMF,
but not being EHS” group. There was no signiﬁcant differ-
ence between the medically diagnosed and the self-diagnosed
As plausible EMF source that caused EHS symp-
toms, most (70.7%) of the responders reported mobile
phone/personal handy-phone system (PHS) base station
(Fig. 2). This was followed by other persons’ mobile phones
(64.0%), personal computers (62.7%), and power lines
(60.0%). Although the number was small, 13.3% indicated
Symptom numbers reported by the Japanese study population (n= 75).
Group Number of symptoms p-value (95%CI)
Mean (SD) Scheff test
Diagnosed 20.3 (6.5) –
Concerned 17.1 (10.2) p> 0.05 (−1.8–8.3)
Sensitive to EMF 6.5 (5.1) p< 0.05 (2.6–25.1)
0.0 20.0 40.0 60.0 80.0
Own mobile phone
Other persons' mobile phone
Fig. 2. Major suspected EMF source reported by Japanese electromagneti-
cally hypersensitive persons (n= 75).
“ultraviolet light (sunshine)” as an EMF source provoking
symptoms (data not shown).
The most commonly suspected EMF source related to the
onset of the EHS was mobile phone/PHS base station (37.3%)
(Fig. 3). It was 1.9 times more frequently attributed to than
personal computers (20.0%).
It should be noted that the health effects of radiation from
medical equipment, such as magnetic resonance imagery
(MRI), X-ray examination, computer tomography (CT), and
echocardiography were also reported. As plausible EMF
sources that caused symptoms, participant checked echocar-
diography (18.7%), X-ray (17.3%), and MRI (16.0%).
Moreover, 7 participants (9.3%) reported that the radiation
from various medical equipments had triggered the onset
of their EHS. Four participants indicated MRI, and three
mentioned X-rays. One of them was a nurse who had been
working in a MRI room, and the remaining 6 had been
exposed to those radiations as patients.
In Japan, the use of induction heating (IH) cookers and
photovoltaic power generations in residences are rapidly
spreading. Although the number is small, ﬁve participants
(6.7%) believed that the cause of their EHS onset was EMF
from IH cookers. Three participants experienced health prob-
lem near the photovoltaic power generation equipment, and
IH cooking heater
Electric home appliance
Fig. 3. Suspected EMF source of EHS onset reported by Japanese electro-
magnetically hypersensitive persons (n= 75).
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98 Y. Kato, O. Johansson / Pathophysiology 19 (2012) 95–100
two participants believed EMF from the equipment was the
cause of EHS onset.
3.2. Medical treatment and cost
The medically diagnosed EHS participants had received
treatment or took medical advice from physicians. Nearly
two thirds, (61.7%) were advised to undertake dietary ther-
apy and an equal number to avoid EMF when possible. They
were followed by to take supplements (55.9%), to remove
metallic restoration materials from teeth (32.3%), to take vita-
mins (such as vitamin C and B12) (26.4%), to try kinesiology
(23.5%), and/or balneotherapy (14.7%).
Many studies have shown that oxidative stress is induced
by exposure to extremely low frequency (ELF) EMF and
radiofrequency radiation from mobile phones, and that this
oxidative stress was decreased by antioxidants [11–14].
Therefore, diagnosed persons had been advised to take
antioxidants, such as vitamin C, zinc and selenium. They
were also advised to take calcium and magnesium.
Most responders (72.0%) used CAM such as food supple-
ments (46.3%), kinesiology (38.9%), balneotherapy (35.2%),
dietary therapy (35.2%), and/or homeopathy (33.3%). The
average number of CAM therapies used was 4 among the
women, and 2 among the men.
We also asked the participants about their sense of sat-
isfaction with each CAM therapy, and made them – in a
questionnaire – assign numerical values to their satisfac-
tion as “none” or “unknown” = 0, “little good” = 1, “so-so
good” = 2, and “very good” = 3. We totaled the satisfaction
values for each CAM user and averaged them. Higher esti-
mations of two points, or more, were chiropractic, energy
healing, and kinesiology.
Regarding the cost of medical treatment includ-
ing CAM per year, 41.3% paid 100,000–300,000yen
(=1300–3900 USD), and 24.0% paid less than 100,000 yen
3.3. Base stations and residence
The participants reported “concerns with construction of
base stations” (68.0%), “no information on EMF from elec-
tric home appliance” (54.7%), and “no indication of the
location of base station” (24.0%). 85.3% had invested in
various EMF-reducing measures. 53.3% had bought shield-
ing cloth to reduce the electromagnetic radiation. 24.0% had
moved to a low EMF area, or bought a new house in a “safer”
Of the participants, 65.3% indicated they experienced
symptoms attributable to radiation from other passengers’
mobile phones on board public transportation, and 12.0%
said they could not use any public transportation due to their
serious health symptoms.
Major symptoms attributed to mobile phone radiation on
board public transportation were headache (49.0%), palpita-
tion (24.5%), dizziness or ringing (20.4%), fatigue/tiredness,
and dermatitis symptoms (18.4%, respectively), and nau-
Participants took various measures to avoid radiation from
mobile phones on board public transportation. Among the
participants, 46.7% limited the time spent out, 37.3% rather
used the bicycle or walked, 30.7% avoided the rush hours, and
14.7% asked passengers to switch off their mobile phones.
Although 40 of the participants (53.3%) had previously
been working in ofﬁces (23.1%) or as educators (19.2%) and
in health care as medical personnel (19.2%), every second
had lost their jobs.
To our knowledge this is the ﬁrst study of this kind in
Japan and also in Asia. The postal questionnaires were carried
out through the website and bulletin of a self-help group for
people with EHS and MCS in Japan. We got most responses
from women. The proportion of women has been higher than
men also in several previous EHS studies [3,5,7,9].Asinthe
self-help group that distributed the questionnaires, women
accounted for an overwhelming majority, it cannot be ruled
out that this sex ratio might have affected the present results.
In this survey, half of responders had medical EHS diagno-
sis and about half were self-diagnosed as EHS. It is a serious
public health problem that half of the participants could not
even receive a medical consultation.
Forty-nine of the participants had also been diagnosed
as MCS, and 26.7% considered themselves MCS. The
result suggests that persons who experience health problems
attributed to EMF may also react to chemicals.
Mobile phone/PHS base stations were reported as the
cause of their EHS onset (37%), and also as the cause of
their symptoms (70%). Base stations were also most often
suspected as the cause of the health problem by persons in
the Switzerland survey . Several epidemiological studies
have suggested a relationship between health problems and
exposure to radiation from base stations [16–20]. The symp-
toms reported near base stations include sleeping disorders,
headache, concentration difﬁculties, and tiredness, and they
are very similar to the reported EHS symptoms. Obviously
it is necessary to clarify more the potential health risk of
sum irradiations from mobile phone base stations especially
in home areas. It might prevent further onset of long-term
EMF sources that were suspected to cause the subjective
symptoms, included the passive exposures to other per-
sons’ mobile phones (64.0%), personal computers (62.7%),
power lines (60.0%), ultraviolet light (13.3%), and/or X-rays
(17.3%). This suggests that the participants might be affected
by various frequencies from ELF to ionizing radiation in
accordance with a classical generalized radiation damage.
Medically diagnosed persons were treated or took advice
to undertake dietary therapy, avoid EMF, take mineral and
vitamin supplements, and to remove metallic ﬁllings from
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Y. Kato, O. Johansson / Pathophysiology 19 (2012) 95–100 99
teeth. Relying on their judgment, 72.0% of participants
choose also to try CAM therapies, especially kinesiology,
chiropractic, and energy healing.
People who had used CAM during the previous years
have been estimated at 42.1% in the USA , 6.6–20%
in the UK [22–24], and 68.9% in Australia . In Japan
this ﬁgure is 65.6% , thus, the present 72.0% we found
in this survey was somewhat higher. Most of the participants
(76.0%) reported sensitivity to chemicals, therefore it is pos-
sible that they usually avoid pharmaceutical drugs and prefer
to use CAM therapies. Further research must be performed
to conﬁrm the validity of CAM to help sensitive people.
Our survey indicates that persons who complain of EMF
sensitivity confront many problems in their daily lives. On
board public transportation, 65.3% of participants experi-
enced health problems attributed to irradiation from other
persons’ mobile phones, and 12.0% even reported that they
could not use public transportation at all.
Regarding employment, 53.3% of participants had a job
before the EHS onset and 65.0% of them lost their work or
experienced a decreased income after the onset. Moreover,
85.3% had invested in EMF-reducing measures to protect
their residence from radiation, such as moving to low EMR
areas, building reduced-EMR housing, and buying low emis-
sion electric home appliances. The total cost for the present
group rose to about 168 million yen (about 2.2 million US
The present results showed clearly that EHS persons in
Japan suffer from various symptoms, they may lose their jobs,
and furthermore, the have to pay for protection from EMF.
Their functional impairment thus act as an actual barrier that
disturbs their social participation and well-being.
In Sweden, EHS is recognized as a functional impairment,
and therefore, EHS persons can receive assistance and ser-
vice in accordance with the Swedish Act concerning Support
and Service for Persons with Certain Functional Impair-
ments (“LSS-lagen”) and the Swedish Social Services Act
The European Parliament has published a report that
requires information about the locations of EMF sources,
such as mobile phone base stations and power lines, to rec-
ognize EHS persons and to grant them adequate protection
. The report indicates 29 counter-measures such as the
above-mentioned items, including its bullet point no. 9. “Calls
on Member States to make available to the public, jointly
with the operators in the sector, maps showing exposure to
high-voltage power lines, radiofrequencies and microwaves,
and especially those generated by telecommunication masts,
radio repeaters and telephone antennas.”, and no. 28. “Calls
on Member States to follow the example of Sweden and to
recognize persons that suffer from electrohypersensitivity as
being disabled so as to grant adequate protection as well as
In the USA, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers
Compliance Board has stated EHS and MCS to be considered
as disabilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act .
Furthermore, the National Institute of Building Sciences, in
the USA, has recommended to provide rooms with low chem-
ical and EMF levels in commercial and public buildings. The
purpose is to ensure accessibility for MCS and EHS persons
The Canadian Human Rights Commission reported that
approximately 3% of Canadians have been diagnosed with
environmental sensitivities, including chemicals and EMF
in their environment . In the report, the author recom-
mended improving the environmental quality in work places.
The results obtained in the present study showed that
Japanese electromagnetically sensitive persons report similar
health problems as people in other parts of the world. Obvi-
ously it is necessary to take a precautionary approach and to
provide social support, as well as to conduct further research
to understand the relationship between health symptoms and
Supported by the Karolinska Institute, the Cancer and
Allergy Foundation (Cancer- och Allergifonden) and a grant
from Mr. Einar Rasmussen, Kristiansand S, Norway.
Mr. Brian Stein, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, UK,
and the Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA;
Cumann Comhshaoil Dhoctúirí na hÉireann) are gratefully
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