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Logo of procrsmedFormerly medchtJournal of the Royal Society of MedicineProceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine
Proc R Soc Med. 1947 October; 40(12): 741–748.
PMCID: PMC2184441

The Complex Behaviour of High-Frequency Currents in Simple Circuits


The fact that standing wave phenomena exist along transmission lines and loops conducting high-frequency electrical energy is responsible for effects of which therapeutic use can be made.

A. Power measurements are made possible because parallel transmission lines behave as power transformers of which the ratio varies with the length of these lines. In a generator designed by the G.E.C. the dimensions of the lines are such that after a preliminary estimation of the impedance of the load in the treatment field, the sensitivity of the meter can be adjusted so that the meter subsequently registers in watts the power absorbed in this load.

B. When using cable electrodes, in practice, the presence of strong electric fields between the antinodal portions of the loop as well as strong oscillating magnetic fields around the nodal portion gives rise to two distinct phenomena (fig. 6).

Search for currents resulting from the electric field on the one hand, and for eddy currents due to the magnetic field on the other, was carried out at St. Thomas's Hospital, in liquid phantoms by means of a probe (fig. 5a) incorporating a small lamp capable of being rotated in every direction. Voltage measurements were recorded by matching its light intensity with that of a similar lamp in circuit with a variable resistance and a voltmeter (fig. 5b).

When a portion of a cable electrode was coiled around a cylindrical vessel containing an electrolyte, the effects due to the two conditions could be dissociated. The following observations were made (fig. 7):

(a) By using the nodal portions of the loop only, it was shown that only eddy currents are produced and that the lower the resistance of the electrolyte the more easily they are produced. They are strongest at the periphery and rapidly fall off away from it, as shown by the curves of the graph in fig. 8.

(b) By using only the antinodal portions of the loop, coiled around the same vessel, coaxial or longitudinal currents can be demonstrated. It is interesting to note that these exist both at the periphery and at the centre.

(c) When the whole cable is wound around the vessel, the concentration of the electrolyte becomes the factor determining the way in which the energy will be dissipated: (1) with tap-water, it is found that no eddy currents can be demonstrated whereas coaxial currents exist; (2) with strong saline solutions the converse holds good; (3) with electrolytes of intermediate concentration both types of currents can be shown to coexist at the periphery while at the centre only coaxial currents can be demonstrated.

The fact that eddy currents and coaxial currents could be detected simultaneously and did not, as might be expected, give rise to a resultant, could only be explained by assuming that although eddy currents and coaxial currents coexisted as far as their effects on the pilot lamp were concerned, these two phenomena were not coincident as regards their phase relations. On examining the system more closely it became clear that the coaxial currents must be approximately 90 degrees out of phase with the eddy currents.

By means of another type of probe (fig. 5c) for surface work, consisting of two metallic buttons mounted on an insulating strip and bridged by a small lamp, P3, similar to the one used throughout the investigations, it was possible to show that the same conditions existed in the body. It could be demonstrated that both coaxial and eddy currents occurred and that the predominance of one or the other type was dictated by conditions related to impedance. In the thigh just above the knee-joint, in most cases both currents could be demonstrated. It could also be shown that when half the cable was wound clockwise and the other half anticlockwise, so as to cancel the magnetic field between the two halves, no eddy currents existed.

C. Present therapeutic applications of high-frequency currents involve the continuous dissipation of electrical energy in the load under treatment. Under these conditions the only detectable effect to which therapeutic value may be ascribed is the rise in temperature which results from heat production. This rise in temperature sets a limit to the power which can be used without risk of burns. Consequently effects other than thermal ones which might manifest themselves under higher intensities remain undetected.

It is not possible to predict what would happen if, instead of treating tissues by means of sustained high-frequency electrical energy, tissues were subjected to intermittent radio-frequency pulses of very high intensity separated by silent periods of sufficient length to allow for the dissipation of heat. Those who have some technical knowledge of such matters will readily recognize an application of “Radar” technique in this.

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