iPods screw with pacemakers

Written by Brett Thomas

May 11, 2007 // 4:40 p.m.

Tags: #heart #ipod #pacemaker

So how many of you have (or are) grandparents who are technologically inclined? My own grandfather is, and it's often entertaining to see what new gadget he's come up with. However, a recent study has shown that there's one gadget he may be better off leaving alone. Apparently, iPods can affect pacemakers, and it doesn't take a lot of exposure.

Patients with a pacemaker can experience abnormal rhythms in as little as 5-10 seconds of exposure to a running iPod, the study found. Almost 50% of patients whose pacemakers were within close proximity to the device (roughly two inches away, as if in a shirt pocket) experienced problems that later showed up as arythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. Even if the person weren't wearing the device, the short time duration means that even a hug goodbye could be enough to interfere.

The study was conducted by a high-school student named Jay Thaker in Michigan, USA for part of a research project. He ended up assembling a small team of doctors from two leading Michigan universities to test his theory. An iPod was held two inches from the chest of 83 patients for between five and ten seconds, with the following results:

  • 20 percent of patients had their pacemakers actually misread heart activity, and actively attempt to correct it,
  • 29 percent more patients experienced a more general "telemetry" effect where the pacemaker couldn't accurately determine what was happening,
  • One patient's device stopped working entirely.

It was also found that some pacemakers received interference from as far away as 18 inches, which could be a serious problem for pretty much anyone going out in public with one of those units.

The results will be presented to the Heart Rhythm Society meeting in Denver, Colorado by Thaker. He stresses that the problem isn't just the rare occurrence that a pacemaker might stop working, but that many pacemakers record abnormalities so that doctors can effectively treat patients. iPods could skew those results, making a patient look like he or she has a very different rhythm than is actually the case and leading to potential misdiagnoses and treatments. And with the growing number of sub-dermal pacemakers and continued popularity of the iPod, it could lead to a big problem.

Maybe that's why MS and Apple took so long to fix the iTunes bugs...they were protecting the health of heart patients. We could go with that, or you could tell us your own thoughts on the issue in our fourms.
Discuss this in the forums