In Some Relatively Rare Cases, iPod Headphones May Have Some Impact On Pacemakers

from the struck-by-lightning-twice dept

There have been numerous studies done over the impact various portable electronics devices have on pacemakers, and they often make headlines blown way out of proportion compared to the actual issue. A year and a half ago, for example, we wrote about a report that found that iPods could interfere with pacemakers under some very specific (and somewhat unlikely) circumstances. And now there’s a new study making the rounds about how iPod headphones could, maybe interfere with pacemakers, again in some very specific circumstances. As the folks behind the report note, it’s so minor that it’s not worth causing a big stir about it, but when the headphones are very close to the device, the magnets in them may impact how the device runs. It was a pretty small sample size, but in experiments it happened in 4 out of 27 tests with pacemakers. Slightly more troubling is in cases with defibrillators, where the headphones got in the way 10 out of 33 times. Though, with the pacemakers, it didn’t sound as if the interference was all that serious in most cases, and with defibrillators, it seems likely that technicians are likely to notice and remove iPod headphones from getting in the way. While it’s good to be aware of the potential for interference, but the actual risk of danger seems pretty minor.

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Comments on “In Some Relatively Rare Cases, iPod Headphones May Have Some Impact On Pacemakers”

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ericsamson says:

Who designs these things?

Maybe someone here will be able to answer this very basic question.

I get the same reaction when I see something like this, as when I see big “turn off your cell phones” signs in hospitals.

Who makes critical life-saving equipment and can’t be bothered to shield them from such widespread devices as iPod headphones or cellphones?

I mean, sure, when pacemakers were first designed, no one thought we’d all be walking around with portable microwave emitters in our pockets… but now? We’re in 2008. These things are commonplace.

What gives?

David (profile) says:

Re: Who designs these things?

About the cell phones in hospitals, the problem is usually not the interference, it’s the fact that most of the time you are in the hospital, you want to be served without any interference from people YELLING on the phone, and the easiest way to do that it to put signs up that tell them to turn off the cell phones.

Not that there is no interference given off by the cell phones, speakers and EKG machines and all of that kind of stuff is almost unavoidable, and while you may be paying a lot of medical bills, most of that goes to the doctors and not to the medical supplies in the hospital.

Just my thoughts on the whole thing

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who designs these things?

It depends on what kind of interference you’re trying to block and what kind of interference that if it IS blocked would undermine the functionality of the equipment to begin with. Also, its a matter of costs. Medical equipment already has an astronomical cost because of the high factor of safety they have to begin with. Raising it more would make them even more expensive. Though, I will admit that there should at least be standard shielding (which is relatively cheap). However, magnetic shielding costs more. Also, some instruments can’t be completely shielded because their whole purpose is to monitor various fields and if they were shielded, they’d no longer be able to monitor anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: any magnets will do it..

I think it wasn’t just the presence of a magnet, but when they were in operation and the magnet was moving. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure they are electromagnets, not static magnets. A moving magnet can cause electrical current. Though, to be honest, I may be wrong because the article I read (not this one, in fact I haven’t read this particular one yet) said not to store the headphones in a shirt pocket. This makes me curious as to whether it really is a static magnet or not. It’d also explain why the pacemaker may not be shielded against it (its more difficult to shield against static magnets than electromagnets).

Anonymous Coward says:

as far as i know all speaker headphone not Ipods only.
14 out of 60 patients were affected (that study didn’t include any Ipods or Iphones).
supposedly headphone must be less than 2inches away from the heart and defibrillators are affected more than pacemakers.

Quote 1:
“Most of the headphones had magnetic field strengths more than 20 times higher than the threshold for interfering with pacemakers or defibrillators, he said. They were made by Sony Corp, Philips Electronics and others.”

Quote 2:
“MP3 players like Apple Inc’s iPod are popular consumer electronic devices. In January, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration researcher said the iPod is unlikely to interfere with pacemakers because it does not produce enough of an electromagnetic field to interfere with the devices.”

linuxjoe (profile) says:

There is more than just MP3 Players

Well having been dealing with Congestive Heart Failure for 3 years with my Wife. She had a Defibrillator implanted 2 years ago, the first thing they tell you is to stay away from magnetic fields. to use your cell phone on the opposite ear of the defibrillator. stay away from motors and microwaves,
and you get a card to show at security checks that use metal detectors that you have a implanted defibrillator and you are not suppose to go through the detector. All places that use them are to have training and provision to accommodate them. even you local stores with the theft devices at the doors can turn them off.

Now why pick on MP3 its just a way to create a uproar and panic to get more people excited. My Granddaughter who has a cochlear implant has turned off her defibrillator by laying her head on grandma’s shoulder. Thing is that as soon as her magnet on her head piece moved away from her defibrillator it turned back on and started working again.

There are hundreds of ways to turn off a defibrillator off but none of the others were mentioned just another way to scare people into reading a story and get it plastered everywhere.

another mike says:


I remember a Sci-Fi channel commercial from a while back where one of the cast of Stargate SG-1 demonstrates hacking a snack machine with the magnets in a pair of earbuds. It was more prop and camera tricks than plausible science but this story made me think of it.

Medical stories also make me think of my stay in the ER when I overheard the techs talking about the acute lead poisoning victim that came in. My motorcycle had been put rubber side up by an SUV. I needed that like the other guy needed a hole in his head. Ooh, sorry, window seat please.

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