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Smartphones Interfere With Pacemakers, Study Finds

Cell Phone Pacemaker

Cardiac devices such as pacemakers should be kept a safe distance from smartphones in order to avoid unwanted painful shocks or lapses in functionality, according to the preliminary findings of a study presented Monday at this year’s European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) Eurospace Cardiostim.

The research was presented by Dr. Carsten Lennerz, the study’s first author and cardiology resident in the Clinic for Heart and Circulatory Diseases at Munich’s German Heart Centre.

Dr. Lennerz was quoted in a release on EurekAlert as having said, “Pacemakers can mistakenly detect electromagnetic interference (EMI) from smartphones as a cardiac signal, causing them to briefly stop working.”

Pacemakers can mistakenly detect electromagnetic interference (EMI) from smartphones as a cardiac signal, causing them to briefly stop working. This leads to a pause in the cardiac rhythm of the pacing dependent patient and may result in syncope. For implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) the external signal mimics a life threatening ventricular tachyarrhythmia, leading the ICD to deliver a painful shock.

Researchers behind the study analyzed a total of 308 patients — between which, the patients accounted for a total of 147 pacemakers, 161 ICDs and 65 CRTs.

By recording electrocardiograms (ECGs) and continuously checking for interference while running a series of tests, the researchers were able to determine that the cardiac device interference caused by smartphones is uncommon. Subsequently, Lennerz and colleagues recommend upholding the current recommendation to maintain a safe distance.

Interference between smartphones and cardiac devices is uncommon but can occur so the current recommendations on keeping a safe distance should be upheld. Interestingly, the device influenced by EMI in our study was MRI compatible which shows that these devices are also susceptible.

The study’s senior author Christof Kolb, prior head of electrophysiology at the German Heart Centre was quoted by HealthDay News in a report on Philly.com as having said in a European Society of Cardiology (ESC) news release that just about “everyone uses smartphones and there is the possibility of interference with a cardiac device if you come too close,” but this doesn’t mean that those with implanted cardiac devices need to ditch their phones, but it does mean that they shouldn’t place them “directly over” their cardiac devices.

Nearly everyone uses smartphones and there is the possibility of interference with a cardiac device if you come too close (…) Patients with a cardiac device can use a smartphone (…) But they should not place it directly over the cardiac device. That means not storing it in a pocket above the cardiac device. They should also hold their smartphone to the ear opposite to the side of the device implant.

In other news, scientists at the Texas Heart Institute have developed a working prototype for a bionic heart which beats without a pulse.

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