Shocking News on Pacemakers

Smart phones used too close to implanted cardiac devices can result in shocks to patients, German researchers report.

Researchers reporting at the joint meeting of the European Heart Rhythm Association Europace-Cardiostim meeting in Milan, Italy found continuing hazards for patients who have implanted cardiac pacemakers.

This time the problem is smart phones.

“Pacemakers can mistakenly detect electromagnetic interference from smartphones as a cardiac signal, causing them to briefly stop working,’ said Carsten Lennerz, MD, a cardiology resident at the German Heart Centre in Munich, Germany. The interfence can also deliver a painful shock, he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long recommended such patients keep their pacemakers at least 15 cm away from mobile phones.

But the data used in formulating those recommendations is outdated, Lennerz said.

With colleagues, he looked at whether that distance is still a safe one given the new mobile network standards used in smartphone technology.

Other develoopments since the FDA guidelines went into effect is the availability of new cardiac devices, such as ICDs, cardiac resynchronization therapy devices, and MRI compatible devices.

The researchers performed more than 3,400 tests and found 1 of every 308 patients was affected by electromagnetic interference from smartphones. The team recommended that patients with pacemakers not put their smartphone directly over their cardiac device and that if the device is on the right side of the body, they should put the phone at their left ear (and vice versa).

High voltage power lines also pose a risk, another team said.

In a second study, Montreal Heart Institute cardiologist Katia Dyrda, MD, said device users should avoid standing under a high voltage power line, setting the devices in unipolar mode or at very sensitive settings. That finding has relevance for those who use walking trails or bike paths set along such high-voltage transmission lines, she noted. But the electrical fields generated by power lines coming into a home are typically not hazardous, she said.