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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 10, 2015

The microwave syndrome or electro-hypersensitivity: historical background

  • David O. Carpenter EMAIL logo


Microwave generating equipment first became common during World War 2 with the development of radar. Soviet bloc countries reported that individuals exposed to microwaves frequently developed headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleepiness, difficulty in concentration, poor memory, emotional instability, and labile cardiovascular function, and established stringent exposure standards. For a variety of reasons these reports were discounted in Western countries, where the prevailing belief was that there could be no adverse health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that were not mediated by tissue heating. The reported Soviet effects were at lower intensities than those that cause heating. However, there were several accidental exposures of radar operators in Western countries that resulted in persistent symptoms similar to those described above. The Soviets irradiated the US Embassy in Moscow with microwaves during the period 1953–1975, and while no convincing evidence of elevated cancer rates was reported, there were reports of “microwave illness”. Officials passed these complaints off as being due to anxiety, not effects of the microwave exposure. There is increasing evidence that the “microwave syndrome” or “electro-hypersensitivity” (EHS) is a real disease that is caused by exposure to EMFs, especially those in the microwave range. The reported incidence of the syndrome is increasing along with increasing exposure to EMFs from electricity, WiFi, mobile phones and towers, smart meters and many other wireless devices. Why some individuals are more sensitive is unclear. While most individuals who report having EHS do not have a specific history of an acute exposure, excessive exposure to EMFs, even for a brief period of time, can induce the syndrome.

Corresponding author: David O. Carpenter, MD, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany, 5 University Place, A217, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA, Phone: +518-525-2660, Fax: +518-525-2665, E-mail:


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Received: 2015-7-8
Accepted: 2015-10-7
Published Online: 2015-11-10
Published in Print: 2015-12-1

©2015 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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