Electronic pacemakers are life-saving technology that completely revolutionized healthcare. But a new study found that these devices may be under threat from gadgets people use every day.
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The study was conducted by a team at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Devices and Radiological Health. They measured variations in the magnetic field at different distances from the latest models of phones and smartwatches:
By noting down their magnetic field footprint, they were able to determine at what distance the magnetic field could directly interfere or damage a pacemaker.
Based on their findings, they discovered that all electronics should be kept at least 6-inches away from implanted devices. This distance sounds too close to be a major concern – but consider packed cities, crowded transportation, and other environments where people are regularly in close proximity.
Pacemakers are used for patients that suffer from heart rhythm disorders. The pacemaker helps them by delivering life-saving electrical pulses that allow the chamber of the heart to contract and then pump blood in a way that keeps the patient alive.
Pacemakers are put into a state called magnet mode when the patient has to undergo treatment where there is a great chance of strong electromagnetic interference. This is done in order to prevent the pacemaker from malfunctioning and sending wrong pulsing information to the heart. As that can be incredibly dangerous to the patient.
Magnet mode can be activated with a simple doughnut magnet with a strength of 9 mT. To put this into perspective, this is about 200 times less than the strength of the earth’s magnetic field. But even a 1mT static magnetic field can interfere with the pacemaker.
Several years ago, household devices didn’t pose such a threat to pacemakers. Since magnets were only in devices like speakers and cordless tools. Today, that is not the case:
A lot of devices that we use in our everyday life contain magnets and create magnetic fields. Imagine things like your smartphone, your smartwatch, your wireless headphones.
The number of devices emitting these has increased so much that one of these devices accidentally interfering with a pacemaker has increased multifold.
The study concluded that potential patients should be informed and educated properly before they are put on pacemakers about the dangers of these everyday devices. Keeping consumer electronics 6-inches away is a start, but the patient may have to take more steps to ensure complete safety:
Additionally, as technology advances, the fields could become stronger, and one day they could be near-fatal levels for people with implanted devices.