Study: Apple iPods can cause pacemakers to malfunction

Apple Store“iPods can cause cardiac implantable pacemakers to malfunction by interfering with the electromagnetic equipment monitoring the heart, according to a study presented by a 17-year-old high school student to a meeting of heart specialists on Thursday,” Debra Sherman reports for Reuters.

“The study tested the effect of the portable music devices on 100 patients, whose mean age was 77, outfitted with pacemakers. Electrical interference was detected half of the time when the iPod was held just 2 inches from the patient’s chest for 5 to 10 seconds,” Sherman reports.

“The study did not examine any portable music devices other than iPods, which are made by Apple Inc.,” Sherman reports.

MacDailyNews Take: Well, isn’t that conveeeenient? For safety’s sake, you’ll probably want to keep iPod also-rans away from pacemakers, too.

Sherman continues, “Jay Thaker, lead author of the study and a student at Okemos High School in Okemos, Michigan, concluded that iPod interference can lead physicians to misdiagnose actual heart function. Thaker, whose father is an electrophysiologist and whose mother is a rheumatologist, said he asked his dad about a potential interaction between pacemakers and iPods.”

“‘We looked online but didn’t see anything. Then, one of his patients asked him if there would be a problem, so (my father) put me in touch with Dr. Krit (Jongnarangsin),’ Thaker said in a telephone interview,” Sherman reports.

Sherman, “Jongnarangsin, a long-time friend of Thaker’s father, is the senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Michigan. ‘Most pacemaker patients are not iPod users,’ Jongnarangsin said. For that reason, he said, it is unclear how often iPods cause misdiagnosis. ‘This needs to be studied more,’ Jongnarangsin added.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This is actually a valuable study. Imagine an iPod shuffle clipped to the shirt or an iPod or iPod nano in a shirt pocket right over a pacemaker!

The American Heart Association recommends:

If you have an artificial pacemaker, be aware of your surroundings and the devices that may interfere with pulse generators:

Home appliances
• CB radios, electric drills, electric blankets, electric shavers, ham radios, heating pads, metal detectors, microwave ovens, TV transmitters and remote control TV changers, in general, have not been shown to damage pacemaker pulse generators, change pacing rates or totally inhibit pacemaker output.
• Several of these devices have a remote potential to cause interference by occasionally inhibiting a single beat. However, most people can continue to use these devices without significant worry about damage or interference with their pacemakers.
• Power-generating equipment, arc welding equipment and powerful magnets (as in medical devices, heavy equipment or motors) can inhibit pulse generators. Patients who work with or near such equipment should know that their pacemakers may not work properly in those conditions.

Cellphones
• Cellphones available in the United States (less than 3 watts) don’t seem to damage pulse generators or affect how the pacemaker works.
• Technology is rapidly changing as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making new frequencies available. Newer cellphones using these new frequencies might make pacemakers less reliable. A group of cellphone companies is studying that possibility.

Medical equipment
• Carry a wallet I.D. card with you. Equipment used by doctors and dentists can affect your pacemaker, so tell them you have one.
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a powerful magnet to produce images of internal organs and functions. Metal objects are attracted to the magnet and are normally not allowed near MRI machines. The magnet can interrupt the pacing and inhibit the output of pacemakers. If MRI must be done, the pacemaker output in some models can be reprogrammed. Discuss with your doctor the possible risks and benefits before you undergo MRI scanning.
• Extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a noninvasive treatment that uses hydraulic shocks to dissolve kidney stones. This procedure is safe for most pacemaker patients, with some reprogramming of the pacing. You’ll need careful follow-up after the procedure and for several months to be sure your unit is working properly. Patients with certain kinds of pacemakers implanted in the abdomen should avoid ESWL. Discuss your specific case with your doctor before and after the treatment.
• Radiofrequency (RF) ablation uses radio waves to manage a wide variety of arrhythmias. Recent studies of patients with implanted pacing systems measured the units before, during and after RF catheter ablation. They showed that most permanent pacemakers aren’t adversely affected by radio frequencies during catheter ablation. A variety of changes in your pacemaker can occur during and after the treatment. Your doctor should carefully evaluate your pacing system after the procedure.
• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is used to relieve acute or chronic pain. Several electrodes are placed on the skin and connected to a pulse generator. Most studies have shown that TENS rarely inhibits bipolar pacing. It may sometimes briefly inhibit unipolar pacing. This can be treated by reprogramming the pulse generator.
• Diagnostic radiation (such as screening X-ray) appears to have no effect on pacemaker pulse generators. However, therapeutic radiation (such as for treating cancerous tumors) may damage the pacemaker’s circuits. The degree of damage is unpredictable and may vary with different systems. But the risk is significant and builds up as the radiation dose increases. The American Heart Association recommends that the pacemaker be shielded as much as possible, and moved if it lies directly in the radiation field. If you depend on your pacemaker for normal heart pacing, the electrocardiogram (ECG) should be monitored during the treatment, and your pulse generator should be tested often after and between radiation sessions.
• Dental equipment doesn’t appear to affect pacemakers adversely. Some patients may feel an increase in pacing rates during dental drilling.
• Electroconvulsive therapy (such as for certain mental disorders) appears to be safely used in patients with pacemakers.
• Short-wave or microwave diathermy uses high-frequency, high-intensity signals. These may bypass your pacemaker’s noise protection and interfere with or permanently damage the pulse generator.

More information: American Heart Association – Pacemakers

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Escaport” for the heads up.]

89 Comments

  1. I was going to comment that pacemakers come with lots of warning about all kinds of devices that could cause them to operate improperly. So most likely the iPod is no exception but isn’t the only mp3 player that would probably cause such a problem for people with pacemakers.

  2. Dumbest FUD I have ever read. iPod doesn’t transmit or receive RF, microwave, or any other kind of radiation. If devices like this affect your pacemaker, you need an upgrade! Or a cabin deep in the woods of course.

  3. Hmmmmm, so that was why grand dad was so . . MOVING to the BEAT, last night!!!! He clipped my shuffle to his shirt and shortly he was hopping all over the place and in time to the music TOOO!!

    And you know that grand dad never had any talent before this. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”grin” style=”border:0;” />

    en

  4. @Big Al,

    Close, but I think I’ve got it! You must only play songs with a backbeat that coincides in frequency with your desired heart rate. Brings a new meaning to “syncing”, no? ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”oh oh” style=”border:0;” />

  5. iPod is the de facto music player, so naturally its the named product.

    Not too difficult to engineer an answer if this really is a serious issue.

    I’d guess that a layer of thin foil inside a pod would shield it nicely.

  6. As a doctor, I feel I should comment. There is a big difference between a patient being paced by their pacemaker and the EKG being uninterpretable because of electrical interference, as this article implies. That is merely a nuisance to the Cardiologist trying to read the EKG. However, having a defibrillator (this function is now often “wrapped” into the pacemaker) go off and shock the patient because of electrical interference from an iPod is an entirely different matter and doesn’t seem to be implied by the article.

    BUT, it does say in the article that one pacemaker stopped working all together – that IS a big deal.

    Just to clarify.

  7. @DJ

    I like your comment, but isn’t iPod already a leader in RF shielding already? The Nano is in an all aluminum housing, the iPod w/ video has a steel backing. Shuffle? Perhaps it might need RF shielding in place, but no more than any competing device. You covered that though, in saying, “iPod is the de facto music player, so naturally its the named product.”, as I mentioned about being “king of the hill” above. Good night all!

  8. OK, first off..
    Cubert, you’re a doctor?

    Second, this quote from Jobs today
    ‘”I wish developing great products was as easy as writing a check. If that was the case, Microsoft would have great products.”

    Hah!!

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