EMF Health-effects Research

Miscarriages among female physical therapists who report using radio- and microwave-frequency electromagnetic radiation.

Ouellet-Hellstrom R, Stewart WF

Am J Epidemiol 138(10):775-786, 1993

Physical therapists are exposed to radio- and microwave-frequency electromagnetic radiation by operating shortwave and microwave diathermy units. Recent studies suggest that use of shortwave diathermy is associated with an excess risk of birth defects, perinatal deaths, and late spontaneous abortions among the offspring of exposed female therapists.

To assess the impact of occupational use of microwave and shortwave diathermy at the time of conception, the authors mailed questionnaires to 42,403 physical therapists in 1989. Both occupational and reproductive histories were obtained. Exposures to shortwave and microwave diathermy were both assessed in the same fashion and were examined in relation to early recognized fetal loss in a nested case-control design.

A total of 1,753 case pregnancies (miscarriages) were matched to 1,753 incidence density control pregnancies (other pregnancies except ectopic pregnancies). A pregnancy was considered "exposed" if the mother reported using microwave or shortwave diathermy anytime during the 6 months prior to the first trimester or during the first trimester.

Pregnancies of mothers reporting microwave use 6 months prior to the pregnancy or during the first trimester were more likely to result in miscarriage (odds ratio (OR) = 1.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.02-1.59). The odds ratio increased with increasing level of exposure (chi 2 = 7.25, p < 0.005).

The odds ratio in the highest exposure group (20 or more exposures/month) was 1.59. The overall odds ratio was slightly lower after it was controlled for prior fetal loss (OR = 1.26, 95% CI 1.00-1.59), but the exposure-response effect remained (chi 2 = 5.17, p < 0.01).

The risk of miscarriage was not associated with reported use of shortwave diathermy equipment (OR = 1.07, 95% CI 0.91-1.24). The odds ratio in the highest exposure group was 0.87.

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