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. When my mother-in-law received her pacemaker/defibulator she and her husband were extremely paranoid about being in our house. We have Mac’s, WiFi, iPods, Cell Phones, TVs, etc.

    She’s since learned to just not hold the stuff up to her chest & she’s fine… Heh.. Its not “just an ipod” issue but any electronic device may potentially effect those devices if held within CLOSE proxcimity. Just don’t carry it in your shirt pocket & you’re fine.

  2. So if a tiny battery powered device like an iPod can do this from up to two inches away, what about the interference from an actual computer? I know Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections on their own are pretty low powered, certainly a lot less than a mobile phone, but combined with other electronic pollution what would be the total effect? Has anyone run that study?

  3. Actually, I’d be more worried about cell phones to tell you the truth. My RAZR makes my iPod 5G go NUTS when it rings anywhere within a foot of the iPod: volume goes up/down, songs change by themselves, backlight comes on, etc. I’m sure many of you have heard your car speakers or computer speakers go all a-buzz when the RAZR checks back with the “mothership” or sends/receives a call.

    That being said, of course iPod gives off a tiny bit of ER. Pacemaker owners should be aware of this, as with any other device. Here’s some pretty standard wording from the FCC statement in the iPod manuals:

    “FCC Compliance Statement
    This device complies with part 15 of the FCC
    rules. Operation is subject to the following two
    conditions: (1) This device may not cause
    harmful interference, and (2) this device must
    accept any interference received, including
    interference that may cause undesired
    operation. See instructions if interference to
    radio or television reception is suspected.
    Radio and Television Interference

    This computer equipment generates, uses, and
    can radiate radio-frequency energy. If it is not
    installed and used properly—that is, in strict
    accordance with Apple’s instructions—it may
    cause interference with radio and television
    reception.

    This equipment has been tested and found to
    comply with the limits for a Class B digital
    device in accordance with the specifications in
    Part 15 of FCC rules. These specifications are
    designed to provide reasonable protection
    against such interference in a residential
    installation. However, there is no guarantee that
    interference will not occur in a particular
    installation.”

  4. I have this “Big Ass” magnet that I want you to strap to your chest and walk around with and see if it messes up your pacemaker. Better yet, I have a giant digital clock I will but on a necklace and you can look freak’n gangsta with and see if you are still kick’n by the end of the night.

    Get real. Some jackass lawyer will see this headline and go “old folks home” shopping now.

    Stupid is as stupid does.

  5. So who says the only place for the iPod is “two inches from the pacemaker”? Put the iPod in your pocket or mount it on your belt. Potential problem resolved. If only they were all this easy…. Like how we’re to deal with the hearing loss by all those playing at high volume.

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