In a recent study published in the journal Heliyon, researchers systematically reviewed and analyzed articles that highlight the impact of harmful electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation on physiological as well as pregnancy outcomes with regards to the mother, birth, and the child.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has caused harmful effects on human health across the globe. Online strategies have been enforced to reduce the associated negative effects owing to the rapid viral transmission by interpersonal contact. This has led to a rise in the usage of smartphones and other electronic devices that emit injurious, non-ionizing EMF radiation of high frequency in the range of 100 kHz to 300 GHz.
The female placenta facilitates an exchange of oxygen and nutrients between the tissues of the mother and the fetus. Thus, alterations in the mother’s body can affect fetal growth and development. EMF radiation emitted from mobile phones can penetrate fetal tissues and cause hormonal imbalances in the mother and thermal, anthropometric, and cardiovascular changes in the fetus. Hence, analyzing these radiation-induced damaging effects in terms of physiological and pregnancy outcomes on the mother and the baby is important.
Previous studies have reported the adverse effects on the EMF-exposed maternal abdomen. However, the evidence is limited. Thus, in the present study, the researchers have reviewed studies on the negative impact of exposure of the maternal abdomen to smartphone-induced EMF radiation.
Two independent reviewers conducted a systematic review that included full-text qualitative or qualitative studies printed in English within the past five years that reported the negative physiological and pregnancy outcomes of smartphone induced EMF radiation on mothers and child’s health in humans and animals, in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines (PRISMA) guidelines.
Data was searched on April 28, 2019, in databases such as PubMed, EBSCO, CINAHL, and MEDLINE using keywords such as “smartphones,” radiation,” “hormones,” “pregnancy,” “birth,” “miscarriages” “neonatal health,” “adult health,” “underweight,” “infant outcomes,” and “physiological alterations.” Databases with grey literature such as ProQuest, Open Grey, and Google Scholar were also explored. Data was updated on February 2, 2021. Boolean operators such as “OR” as well as “AND” were used by the researchers for literature search. Reports, book chapters, editorial and conference papers, and dissertations were not included.
Initially, 10,450 published articles were obtained. However, only 18 articles were chosen for the study after removing duplicates and applying eligibility criteria. For critical appraisal, the National Institute of Health (NIH) tool, Johns Hopkins Nursing Evidence-Based Practice Model, Toxicological Data Reliability Assessment Tool. (ToxRTool), the Risk of Bias in Non-Randomized Studies – of Interventions (ROBINS-I) tool and the Risk of Bias 2 (ROB-2) Cochrane tool were used.
In the current review, data from 18 studies of various types, including cross-sectional, experimental, prospective cohort, meta-analysis, and model calculation studies conducted across nations, were reviewed with a level of evidence A or B only in 75% of them. The analysis indicated that pregnant females exposed to high levels of EMF radiation had elevated levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), miscarriages, premature birth along with low birth weight, fluctuations in temperature, heart rate variability (HRV), altered development of the nervous system, decreased head and chest circumference, hyperactivity, and speech problems in the infant.
Elevated TSH levels during pregnancy are associated with premature delivery, restrictions in intrauterine growth, and other problems such as preeclampsia, pregnancy loss, and antepartum bleeding. HRV levels indicate the cardiovascular health of the foetus; HRV alterations are a reflection of changes in the development of the neonatal nervous system.
The study findings show that EMF radiation from smartphones and other electronic devices has a profound negative impact on the well being of the pregnant mother and the child. However, the smartphones used were not standardized. In vitro studies and studies with insignificant results carried out across adults with self-reported data were included in this review, which decreased the generalizability of the results.
Future studies considering the effects of high and low frequencies of EMF radiation with conclusive evidence on changes in several pregnancies and physiological parameters at different stages of pregnancy must be carried out. Healthcare workers must evaluate the effects of EMF radiation in pregnant women to ensure a safe pregnancy.