Work-attributed symptom clusters (darkroom disease) among radiographers versus physiotherapists: associations between self-reported exposures and psychosocial stressors.

Tarlo SM, Liss GM, Greene JM, Purdham J, McCaskell L, Kipen H, Kerr M.
Am J Ind Med. 2004 Jun;45(6):513-21.

BACKGROUND: “Darkroom disease” (DRD) has been used to describe unexplained multiple symptoms attributed by radiographers to their workenvironment. This study determines the prevalence of symptom clusters similar to other unexplained syndromes among (medical radiation technologists (MRTs) as compared with physiotherapists (PTs), and identifies associated work-related (WR) factors.

METHODS: A mail survey was undertaken of members of the professional associations of MRTs and PTs in Ontario, Canada. Questions were included to determine the prevalence and frequency of symptom clusters including abnormal tiredness as well as WR headaches, and symptoms suggestive of eye, nasal, and throat irritation. For the purpose of this study, these are considered to be DRD symptom clusters. Individuals with doctor-diagnosed asthma were excluded from our analyses.

RESULTS: Overall, 63.9% of MRTs and 63.1% of PTs participated. Criteria for DRD were met by 7.8% of 1,483 MRTs and 1.8% of 1,545 PTs [odds ratio, OR 4.8 (confidence interval, CI 3.1-7.5); (P < 0.0001)]. Both occupations showed significant associations between responses reflecting psychosocial stressors and DRD. Those with this symptom cluster were more likely to report additional symptoms than those without, and MRTs with DRD symptoms reported significantly more workplace chemical exposures.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest excess symptoms consistent with DRD among MRTs versus PTs, and there were associations among those meeting our definition of DRD with self-reported irritant exposures and psychosocial stressors.

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