Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 5, 2017

Functional brain MRI in patients complaining of electrohypersensitivity after long term exposure to electromagnetic fields

  • Gunnar Heuser EMAIL logo and Sylvia A. Heuser
An erratum for this article can be found here:



Ten adult patients with electromagnetic hypersensitivity underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans. All scans were abnormal with abnormalities which were consistent and similar. It is proposed that fMRI brain scans be used as a diagnostic aid for determining whether or not a patient has electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Over the years we have seen an increasing number of patients who had developed multi system complaints after long term repeated exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These complaints included headaches, intermittent cognitive and memory problems, intermittent disorientation, and also sensitivity to EMF exposure. Regular laboratory tests were within normal limits in these patients. The patients refused to be exposed to radioactivity. This of course ruled out positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) brain scanning. This is why we ordered fMRI brain scans on these patients. We hoped that we could document objective abnormalities in these patients who had often been labeled as psychiatric cases.

Materials and methods:

Ten patients first underwent a regular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan, using a 3 Tesla Siemens Verio MRI open system. A functional MRI study was then performed in the resting state using the following sequences:

  1. A three-dimensional, T1-weighted, gradient-echo (MPRAGE)

  2. Resting state network. The echo-planar imaging (EPI) sequences for this resting state blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) scan were then post processed on a 3D workstation and the independent component analysis was performed separating out the various networks.

  3. Arterial spin labeling.

  4. Tractography and fractional anisotropy.


All ten patients had abnormal functional MRI brain scans. The abnormality was often described as hyper connectivity of the anterior component of the default mode in the medial orbitofrontal area. Other abnormalities were usually found. Regular MRI studies of the brain were mostly unremarkable in these patients.


We propose that functional MRI studies should become a diagnostic aid when evaluating a patient who claims electrohypersensitivity (EHS) and has otherwise normal studies. Interestingly, the differential diagnosis for the abnormalities seen on the fMRI includes head injury. It turns out that many of our patients indeed had a history of head injury which was then followed sometime later by the development of EHS. Many of our patients also had a history of exposure to potentially neurotoxic chemicals, especially mold. Head injury and neurotoxic chemical exposure may make a patient more vulnerable to develop EHS.

Corresponding author: Gunnar Heuser, MD, PhD, Formerly UCLA Medical Center, Department of Medicine, PO Box 5066, El Dorado Hills, Los Angeles, CA 95762, USA, Phone: +(310) 500-0041, Website:


Medical Imaging of Southern California graciously made their studies (MRI and fMRI) available at a significant discount. We also acknowledge Brea Blevins who helped to retrieve and to display the images published in this paper. Most patients were either self referred or referred by their physician. Some were referred by The Peoples Initiative Foundation which was formed and is directed by Elizabeth Barris.

Author Statement

  1. Research funding: No funds for this study were available from any foundation or other financial entity for this study. Partial payment was received for two patient studies by a charitable foundation (The Peoples Initiative Foundation). Patients paid for their own consultations and testing. No insurance reimbursements were available for the fMRI study. Conflict of interest: Authors state no conflict of interest. Informed consent: Informed consent has been obtained from all individuals. Ethical approval: Ethical approval was not applicable.


1. Heuser G, Mena I. Neurospect in neurotoxic chemical exposure. Demonstration of long-term functional abnormalities. Toxicol Ind Health 1998;14(6):813–27.10.1177/074823379801400604Search in Google Scholar PubMed

2. Heuser G, Wu JC. Deep subcortical (including limbic) hypermetabolism in patients with chemical intolerance: human PET studies. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2001;933:319–22.10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb05835.xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

3. Heuser G. Functional brain Imaging with SPECT and PET after neurotoxic exposure: two and three-diimensional displays. Zeitschrift fur Umweltmedizin 1999;8:284–5.Search in Google Scholar

4. Huber R, Treyer V, Schuderer J, Berthold T, Buck A, et al. Exposure to pulse-modulated radio frequency electromagnetic fields affects regional cerebral blood flow. Eur J Neurosci 2005;21(4):1000–6.10.1111/j.1460-9568.2005.03929.xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

5. Aalto S, Haarala C, Brück A, Sipilä H, Hämäläinen H, et al. Mobile phone affects cerebral blood flow in humans. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab 2006;26(7):885–90.10.1038/sj.jcbfm.9600279Search in Google Scholar PubMed

6. Haarala C, Aalto S, Hautzel H, Julkunen L, Rinne JO, et al. Effects of a 902 MHz mobile phone on cerebral blood flow in humans: a PET study. Neuroreport. 2003;14(16):2019–23.10.1097/00001756-200311140-00003Search in Google Scholar PubMed

7. Huber R, Treyer V, Borbély AA, Schuderer J, Gottselig JM, et al. Electromagnetic fields, such as those from mobile phones, alter regional cerebral blood flow and sleep and waking EEG. J Sleep Res 2002;11(4):289–95.10.1046/j.1365-2869.2002.00314.xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

8. Bartha L. Multiple chemical sensitivity: a 1999 consensus. Arch Environ Health 1999;54(3):147–9.10.1080/00039899909602251Search in Google Scholar PubMed

9. Carpenter DO. The microwave syndrome or electro-hypersensitivity: historical background. Rev Environ Health 2015;30(4):217–22.10.1515/reveh-2015-0016Search in Google Scholar PubMed

10. Hedendahl L, Carlberg M, Hardell L. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity – an increasing challenge to the medical profession. Rev Environ Health 2015;30(4):209–15.10.1515/reveh-2015-0012Search in Google Scholar PubMed

11. Genuis SJ, Lipp CT. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: fact or fiction? Sci Total Environ 2012;414:103–12.10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.11.008Search in Google Scholar PubMed

12. McCarty DE, Carrubba S, Chesson AL, Frilot C, Gonzalez-Toledo E, et al. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: evidence for a novel neurological syndrome. Int J Neurosci 2011;121(12):670–6.10.3109/00207454.2011.608139Search in Google Scholar PubMed

13. Adey WR. Joint actions of environmental nonionizing electromagnetic fields and chemical pollution in cancer promotion. Environ Health Perspect 1990;86:297–305.10.1289/ehp.9086297Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

14. Haarala C, Takio F, Rintee T, Laine M, Koivisto M, et al. Pulsed and continuous wave mobile phone exposure over left versus right hemisphere: effects on human cognitive function. Bioelectromagnetics 2007;28(4):289–95.10.1002/bem.20287Search in Google Scholar PubMed

15. Vecchio F, Babiloni C, Ferreri F, Curcio G, Fini R, et al. Mobile phone emission modulates interhemispheric functional coupling of EEG alpha rhythms. Eur J Neurosci 2007;25(6):1908–13.10.1111/j.1460-9568.2007.05405.xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

16. Yang L, Chen Q, Lv B, Wu T. Long-Term evolution electromagnetic fields exposure modulates the resting state EEG on alpha and beta bands. Clin EEG Neurosci 2017;48(3):168–75.10.1177/1550059416644887Search in Google Scholar PubMed

17. van den Heuvel MP, Hulshoff Pol HE. Exploring the brain network: a review on resting-state fMRI functional connectivity. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 2010;20(8):519–34.10.1016/j.euroneuro.2010.03.008Search in Google Scholar PubMed

18. Horn A, Dirk O, Reisert M, Blankenburg F. Default Mode Network. [revised 2016 August]. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. San Francisco, CA: NeuroImage; 2006 September. 10 pages. Available from: DOI: 10.1016.10.1016Search in Google Scholar

19. Liston C, Chen AC, Zebley BD, Drysdale AT, Gordon R, et al. Default mode network mechanisms of transcranial magnetic stimulation in depression. Biol Psychiatry 2014;76(7):517–26.10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.01.023Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

20. Smith SM, Vidaurre D, Beckmann CF, Glasser MF, Jenkinson M, et al. Functional connectomics from resting-state fMRI. Trends Cogn Sci 2013;17(12):666–82.10.1016/j.tics.2013.09.016Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

21. Lee MH, Smyser CD, Shimony JS. Resting-state fMRI: a review of methods and clinical applications. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol 2013;34(10):1866–72.10.3174/ajnr.A3263Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

22. Rubin GJ, Hillert L, Nieto-Hernandez R, van Rongen E, Oftedal G. 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;32(8):593–609.10.1002/bem.20690Search in Google Scholar

23. Tuengler A, von Klitzing L. Hypothesis on how to measure electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Electromagn Biol Med 2013;32(3):281–90.10.3109/15368378.2012.712586Search in Google Scholar

24. Espí Forcén C, Espí Forcén F. Demonic possessions and mental illness: discussion of selected cases in late medieval hagiographical literature. Early Sci Med 2014;19(3):258–79.10.1163/15733823-00193p03Search in Google Scholar

25. Belpomme D, Campagnac C, Irigaray P. Reliable disease biomarkers characterizing and identifying electrohypersensitivity and multiple chemical sensitivity as two etiopathogenic aspects of a unique pathological disorder. Rev Environ Health 2015;30(4):251–71.10.1515/reveh-2015-0027Search in Google Scholar

26. De Luca C, Chung Sheun Thai J, Raskovic D, Cesareo E, Caccamo D, et al. Metabolic and genetic screening of electromagnetic hypersensitive subjects as a feasible tool for diagnostics and intervention. Mediators Inflamm 2014;2014:924184.10.1155/2014/924184Search in Google Scholar

27. Rubin GJ, Das Munshi J, Wessely S. A systematic review of treatments for electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Psychother Psychosom 2006;75(1):12–8.10.1159/000089222Search in Google Scholar

28. Heuser G, Uszler JM. Hyperbaric oxygenation for cerebral palsy. Lancet 2001;357(9273):2053–4. Erratum in: Lancet 2001 Nov 24;358(9295):1820.10.1016/S0140-6736(00)05139-4Search in Google Scholar

29. Gangi S, Johansson O. A theoretical model based upon mast cells and histamine to explain the recently proclaimed sensitivity to electric and/or magnetic fields in humans. Med Hypotheses 2000;54(4):663–71.10.1054/mehy.1999.0923Search in Google Scholar PubMed

30. Heuser G. Mast cell disorder to be ruled out in MCS. Arch Environ Health 2000;55(4):284–5.10.1080/00039890009603420Search in Google Scholar PubMed

31. Unpublished observations by authors.Search in Google Scholar

32. Mishra AM, Bai X, Sanganahalli BG, Waxman SG, Shatillo O, et al. Decreased resting functional connectivity after traumatic brain injury in the rat. Plos One 2014;09(4):e95280.10.1371/journal.pone.0095280Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

33. Zhou Y, Milham M, Lui Y, Zhou Y, Milham MP, et al. Default-mode network disruption in mild traumatic brain injury. Radiology 2012;265(3):882–92.10.1148/radiol.12120748Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Received: 2017-4-3
Accepted: 2017-5-25
Published Online: 2017-7-5
Published in Print: 2017-9-26

©2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 29.11.2023 from
Scroll to top button