Coping and self-image in patients with visual display terminal-related skin symptoms and perceived hypersensitivity to electricity

  • J. BergdahlEmail author
  • B. Stenberg
  • N. Eriksson
  • G. Lindén
  • L. Widman
Original Article


Objectives: The aim of the present study was to measure coping resources and self-image in patients with visual display terminal (VDT)-related skin symptoms and hypersensitivity to electricity (HE).

Methods: From 1980 to 1998, 350 patients with electrical sensitivity were registered. The patients were subdivided into two groups: patients with skin symptoms evoked by VDTs, television screens, and fluorescent-light tubes and patients with so-called hypersensitivity to electricity with multiple symptoms evoked by exposure to different electrical environments. A questionnaire was sent to all patients and contained the coping resources inventory (CRI) and the structural analysis of social behaviour (SASB) in order for us to measure coping resources and self-image, respectively. The CRI and SASB scores were compared with those of control groups. Two hundred and fifty respondents (73%) returned the questionnaire, 200 (78.5% women) in the VDT group and 50 (62% women) in the HE group.

Results: The patient group rated high on the CRI spiritual/philosophical scale and high on the SASB spontaneous, positive and negative clusters but low on the controlled cluster. The female patients scored high on the CRI emotional scale. The VDT group rated lower than the controls on the SASB controlled cluster and higher on both the positive and negative cluster. The HE group scored higher than the control group on the SASB spontaneous and positive clusters. The women in the HE group scored higher on the CRI cognitive and CRI total scale than the VDT group and control group and higher on the CRI emotional scale than the controls. The women in the HE group rated higher than both the women in the VDT and control groups on the SASB spontaneous and positive clusters.

Conclusions: The deviant self-image found in these patients, especially the female HE patients, support the view that VDT and HE symptoms can be stress related. In the clinic, a trustful alliance should be established with the patient in order for a more realistic view to be achieved of the capacity.


Coping Environmental illness Hypersensitivity to electricity Self-image Visual display terminals 


  1. American Psychiatric Association (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn. American Psychiatric Association, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  2. Benjamin L (1974) Structural analysis of social behavior. Psychol Rev 81:392–425Google Scholar
  3. Bergdahl J (1995) Psychological aspects of patients with symptoms presumed to be caused by electricity or visual display units. Acta Odontol Scand 53:304–310PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergdahl J, Bergdahl M (2001) Environmental illness: evaluation of salivary flow, symptoms, diseases, medications, and psychological factors. Acta Odontol Scand 59:104–110CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bergqvist U, Brante T, Fransson K, Hansson Mild K, Hillert L, Johansson O, Rönnbäck L, Sandström M, Stenberg B (1998) Elektromagnetiska fält, elöverkänslighet och neurologisk sjukdom—en kunskapsöversikt (in Swedish). Solna: Arbetslivsinstitutet. Arbete och hälsa, vetenskaplig skriftserie No. 23Google Scholar
  6. Bergqvist U, Vogel E, Aringer L, Cunningham J, Gobba F, Leitgeb N et al (1997) Possible health implications of subjective symptoms and electromagnetic fields. A report prepared by a European group of experts for the European Commission, DG V. Solna, Sweden, Arbetslivsinstitutet (National Institute for Working Life), Arbete och hälsa, p 19Google Scholar
  7. Black DW (1996) Psychiatric perspective of persons with “environmental illness”. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 14:337–355PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Black DW (2000) The relationship of mental disorders and idiopathic environmental intolerance. Occup Med 15:557–570PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Black DW, Okiishi C, Schlosser S (2000) A nine-year follow-up of people diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivities. Psychosomatics 41:253–261CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Black OW, Rathe A, Goldstein RB (1993) Measures of distress in 26 “environmentally ill” subjects. Psychosomatics 34:131–138PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bodlund O, Armelius K (1994) Self-image and personality traits in gender identity disorders: an empirical study. J Sex Marital Ther 20:303–317PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Hammer AL (1988) Manual for the coping resources inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo AltoGoogle Scholar
  13. Hillert L, Kolmodin Hedman B, Söderman E, Arnetz BB (1999) Hypersensitivity to electricity: working definition and additional characterization of the syndrome. J Psychosom Res 47:429–438CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Leznoff A, Binkley KE (2000) Idiopathic environmental intolerance: results of challenge studies. Occup Med 15:529–537PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Pincus A, Gurtman M, Ruiz M (1998) Structural analysis of social behavior (SASB): Circumplex analysis and structural relations with the interpersonal circle and the five-factor model of personality. J Pers Soc Psychol 74:1629–1645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sandström M, Lyskov E, Hörnsten R, Hansson Mild K, Wiklund U, Rask P, Klucharev V, Stenberg B, Bjerle P (2003) Holter ECG monitoring in patients with perceived electrical hypersensitivity. Int J Psychophysiol 49:227–235Google Scholar
  17. Simon GE, Daniell W, Stockbridge H, et al (1993) Immunologic, psychological and neurophysiological factors in multiple chemical sensitivity: a controlled study. Ann Int Med 119:97–103PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Sparks PJ (2000) Idiopathic environmental intolerance: overview. Occup Med 15:497–510PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Sparks PJ, Daniell W, Black DW, Kipen HM, Altman LC, Simon GE, Terr AI (1994a) Multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome: a clinical perspective. I. Case definition, theories of pathogenesis and research needs. J Occup Environ Med 36:718–730Google Scholar
  20. Sparks PJ, Daniell W, Black DW, Kipen HM, Altman LC, Simon GE, Terr AI (1994b) Multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome: a clinical perspective. II. Evaluation, diagnostic testing, treatment and social considerations. J Occup Environ Med 36:731–737Google Scholar
  21. Stenberg B, Bergdahl J, Edvardsson B, Eriksson N, Linden G, Widman L (2002) Medical and social prognosis for patients with perceived hypersensitivity to electricity and skin symptoms related to the use of visual display terminals. Scand J Work Environ Health 28:349–357PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Stenberg B, Eriksson N, Hansson Mild K, Höög J, Sandström M, Sundell J, Wall S (1995) Facial skin symptoms in visual display terminal (VDT) workers. A case-referent study of personal, psychosocial, building- and VDT-related risk indicators. Int J Epidemiol 24:796–803PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Bergdahl
    • 1
    Email author
  • B. Stenberg
    • 2
  • N. Eriksson
    • 3
  • G. Lindén
    • 4
  • L. Widman
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden
  2. 2.Dermatology & Venereology and Epidemiology, Department of Public Health and Clinical MedicineUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden
  4. 4.Department of Occupational and Environmental MedicineUniversity Hospital of Northern SwedenUmeåSweden

Personalised recommendations