iPods May Affect Pacemakers

Thinking of buying Gramps an iPod for his birthday? If he has a pacemaker, you might want to hold off according to a new study “presented by a 17-year-old high school student to a meeting of heart specialists on Thursday.” A high school student? Yeah!

From 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.

The study did not examine any portable music devices other than iPods, which are made by Apple.

In some cases, the iPods caused interference when held 18 inches from the chest. Interfering with the telemetry equipment caused the device to misread the heart’s pacing and in one case caused the pacemaker to stop functioning altogether.

The study was held at the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Institute at Michigan State University.

The project began when Jay Thaker (the high school student in question) asked his father (an electrophysiologist) if an iPod could affect a pacemaker. His dad didn’t know and when a patent asked the same thing, they decided to do the study. Obviously, more research is needed, but what a neat science project. When we were in school, we had to dissected a fish. Ew.—MEGHANN MARCO

Study says iPods can make pacemakers malfunction
[Reuters] (Thanks to all who sent this!)
(Photo: strollers)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    Imagine that. Electronic device might affect pacemakers.

    Would this be news if it wasn’t about the iPod?

  2. Aston14 says:

    He seems like a nice smart kid, but his experiment is very unscientific. He didn’t test other electronic devices, just ipods, and there was no control group. Imagine if he ran an experiment in which he ran people over with a Ford truck, and then wrote an article saying that Ford Trucks can kill people. It isnt the Ford that does it, it is the fact that a car ran you over. Same here, it may not be the ipod, it may be any comparable electronic device. Good start though.

  3. gwong says:

    @Buran: Probably not!

    How often do electronic devices affect pacemakers anyway?

  4. MariSama44 says:

    Hey! Its the return of Doogie Houser!

  5. Youthier says:

    @Aston14: My high school science teacher would have made all your points and then some. Then he would have given me a D for a half-ass attempt.

    Of course, he was an ass. But he was also a fantastic teacher who prepared me for college, so there you go.

  6. FLConsumer says:

    Reason #538 why I refuse to get a pacemaker despite a few cardiologists recommending it. There’s too many electronics out there now (and I work with most of ’em!)

    The real story here is that pacemakers need better RF shielding, not that an iPod was involved. ‘though I do have to wonder, what is the FCC rating on the iPod? Most home computers are “Class B” and are totally harmless.

  7. Coder4Life says:

    Ipod gets hit with it because they have established a name for itself. When someone wants an MP3 player, they directly goto IPOD.

    Working in a retail store a person woudl say “I think I want an Ipod”. And what they meant to say was MP3 player.

    So Yes ofcourse they get the blame and the spotlight.

    Think about Ford if it owned 70% of the market, and their fuel efficency was bad. People woudl say “Cars these days have bad fuel efficency” even though the other 30% have good fuel efficency.

    They own the market, so they will be in the spot light .. Even though other mp3 players will do the same I am sure.

  8. jaredharley says:

    @Aston14: Thank God I’m not alone in feeling like that!

    Um, which iPods? Flash-based or hard-drive? I assumed it would be the magnets in the hard drives.

  9. facted says:

    @FLConsumer: If multiple cardiologists recommend getting a pacemaker, it might be wise to listen (unless of course you’re a cardiologist and you disagree for some reason). The chance of interference is likely not anywhere near the risk of not getting the pacemaker in the first place.

    This is one of those “this could theoretically happen so let’s just all freak out” situations. Just like electronics on airplanes and cell phones in hospitals. In fact, Mayo Clinic just did a huge trial on medical equipment with cell phones and found that there is basically no interference.

  10. larry_y says:

    My somewhat educated guess is that the motors in hard drives in iPods are the source of the intererence, if the iPod is really interfering. Did he do the studies in an RF chamber? How about a spectrum analyzer?

  11. vanilla-fro says:

    This may have some merit as a story as an Ipod (or other Mp3 player) is one of the only elctronic devices that you may put in your shirt pocket. Not many electronic devices get that close to your chest/pacemaker.

    Pacemakers should have better protection from interference though.

  12. TalbotD says:

    …above comments are pretty good — folks here don’t easily swallow the standard newswire sensationalism.

    Pacemakers are notoriously sensitive to ElectroMagnetic Interference (EMI), although documented cases of real harm to users are rare.

    Almost anything electrical ‘could’ affect various types of pacemakers — anything from light bulbs, electric toothbrushes, hospital pagers … to nuclear detonations. This has been known for decades.

    So there’s no science in this IPOD “experiment” … just amusement.

  13. KivaWolf says:

    Kinda makes you look at the stop/pause button in a whole new different way doesn’t it? Jokes aside, this is something that should be researched more into if its true and not just a case of one IPOD gone wacky.

  14. ptrix says:

    I would REALLY like to know which model of iPod he ran his “tests” with, as the Shuffle is made with aluminum, as well as the latest models of the Nano, and to the best of my knowledge, aluminum naturally has RF shielding properties.

    in addition to that, those two iPod models are the least expensive, and are the most popular, so I highly question the validity of his claims.

  15. MeTzGuY45 says:

    Seeing as I just got a pacemaker last summer, I see no truth in this “experiment.” While he may have actually recorded this, I doubt it has any merit nowadays, at least in my case. Seeing as the patients average age was 77, that most likely means all of them had older pacemakers than the one I have. I’m 17 and have never have a problem with my iPod or any other electronic device for that matter. Besides, the magnets in the HDs of the iPods are most likely not strong enough to actually harm anyone with a pacemaker, at least for those with newer pacemakers.

  16. FLConsumer says:

    @facted: If I listened to what every doctor has told me over the years, I should have: bowel cancer, celiac disease, pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, need a pacemaker, need a heart valve replacement, possibly an artificial “booster pump” like the Jarvik-7 implanted, and I could go on & on. My gut feeling each time a doctor presented a new diagnosis was “maybe…” Then I’d head over to the med school library and start doing research and the diagnosis quickly seemed inappropriate.

    Ultimately, the only thing wrong with my heart was that it was weak as were the smooth muscles in my veins were weak. 6 months of specialised exercises and training took care of that once and for all. No drugs, no implants, no surgeries, no transplants. The GI issues ended up being caused by an overabundance of the wrong types of bacteria in my small intestine. A heavy and extended course of antibiotics wiped the slate (small intestine) clean and I was given probiotics to start new bacterial colonies. Seemed very newage-ish to me, but the Dr definitely wasn’t into the new-age stuff.

    I’ve since seen quite a bit of medical research on probiotics and the exercises since I had those problems. Glad I didn’t opt for the exploratory surgery one of the GI docs was pushing after he came up with 5-6 different ideas of what it might have been. All 5-6 ideas were wrong, btw.

  17. urban_ninjya says:

    OMG.. Just imagine what a Zune can do with it’s WiFi.

  18. I borrowed a friend’s minivan last weekend to move some stuff down to my new apartment. I had my iPod plugged into the van’s tape deck and I had my cellphone sitting about 18 inches away, in the car’s cupholder.

    I got on the highway and was crankin’ my tunes when, all of a sudden, I heard the sound of delicious RF interference (you know, the “blip-blip-blippity-blip-blip”) through the van’s stereo. Suddenly, the RF interference sound got louder and louder…and the iPod volume reset to zero. I mean, completely reset. Just like that. I had to turn the iPod back up in order to hear anything.

    If my cellphone can make my iPod shit the bed, then I hate to see what some of these devices could do to a pacemaker!