by Carlo Longino

Now It's iPods' Turn To Mess With Pacemakers

from the beep-beep-beep-beep dept

At one point or another, it seems like every new technology or gadget gets a story where it's either deemed safe or harmful to pacemakers -- such as when some mobile phones were said to interfere with some older pacemakers, while a flimsy-sounding study said WiFi was safe. Now, it's the iPod's turn, and a study in Michigan (led by a high-school student) says that they can interfere with pacemakers. The oh-so-comprehensive study didn't look at other types of media players, just the iPod, and tested the highly-likely-in-the-real-world scenario of an iPod being held two inches from the chest of a person with a pacemaker. Now, if iPods or other MP3 players do mess with pacemakers, that's no good. But given the way these stories always pop up, it seems that instead of implying there's a problem with the gadgets in question, perhaps it's time to start looking at ways to make pacemakers a little more resistant to interference so every new gadget isn't a cause for concern?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    XCetron, May 11th, 2007 @ 12:37am

    I agree with the proposed solution here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Dr. Klahn, May 11th, 2007 @ 2:12am

    Can't quite believe that

    It's been a long time since pacemakers were adjusted with bar magnets. Cordis, Medtronic and other pacemaker manufacturers now use digital communication methods to talk to the pacemaker internal CPUs. Those methods are designed specifically to eliminate problems of this type.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    RG, May 11th, 2007 @ 5:37am

    Unlike most of your readers, I actually wear a pacemaker and I would like to point out a few things:
    (1) Pacemakers are pretty sophisticated. The battery in mine is scheduled to last about 10 years. I wish my iPod battery lasted 1% of that time.
    (2) I could easily imagine an iPod, especially a shuffle, being two inches from my pacemaker in a shirt or jacket pocket.
    (3) A lot of the warnings about pacemakers are overblown. I carry a card that says I wear a pacemaker and I'm supposed to show that when going through airport security so I can be checked with a wand rather than the regular metal detector. I tried that a few times but it takes longer so now I just go through the regular way and my pacemaker still works fine.
    (4) Pacemakers are expensive! I don't even know how much mine cost fully installed because insurance paid for it but it was WAY more expensive than an iPod (even an iPod video).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Neall McLaren, May 11th, 2007 @ 6:17am

    Wow give the Guy a PhD - what a comprehensive study

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Sanguine Dream, May 11th, 2007 @ 6:18am

    Hold on...

    Exactly what is an iPod giving off that would cause such interference? Devices that interfere with pacemakers are actively giving off some sort of signal, energy, or something that messes with the pacemaker. I didn't know that iPods were transmitting anything like that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Richard Ahlquist (profile), May 11th, 2007 @ 7:00am


    Also keep in mind some pacemakers have 'receivers' to transfer data and even firmware back and forth. So you cant completely shield them off. One of the folks I know used to joke about upgrading her grandfather.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    That guy, May 11th, 2007 @ 7:06am

    This makes me mad...

    the nerve of some people to point out a potentially life threatening scenarios that could likely happen.

    But your right, they probably shouldn't have pointed out that someone would die until they at least checked out the same scenario with a Zune. Leave it to a high school kid to test with only the most common MP3 player on the market, using the highly likely scenario of someone having a iPod in their shirt pocket, or around their neck or even using the popular arm band. A true researcher would have started with the least common worst selling mp3 player and worked their way up to the iPod. You can tell this kid must be a PC and Microsoft lover, what other logic could he have for going with an iPod?

    And good for you for calling out those lazy scientist for not making their pacemakers foolproof against yet to be determined unique electromagnetic and radiation fields. If they weren't so busy listening to their zunes, I bet they would have come up with the perfect pacemaker by now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Will, May 11th, 2007 @ 7:18am

    For atleast the last 10 years, pacemakers have been well shielded against EM fields generated by basic home/office electronic equipment. Sure, you don't want to go hugging some nice big magnets, but unless you're using a seriously f'ed up iPod, it's going to have a sum total zero effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Wyatt, May 11th, 2007 @ 7:25am


    I hope that was sarcasium.. Like RG said they are very sophisticated devices. And like Sanguine said, what could they possibly be giving off that would interfere with a pacemaker? I mean, unless they are sending secrete signals back to Steve J about your listening habits. Humm.... Seems this is overblown, somewhat like the cell phones on air planes. These devices are designed to work well because they have lives depending on them. But we need a little more excitement in America, so rather than studying something important lets waste more time on things that are irrelevant.

    Did anyone know that hair dryers dry out your hair, making it fall out faster for men? I did a study on it in my bathroom.. Theres just no other reason for the hair loss..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    E. Vile, May 11th, 2007 @ 7:49am

    Ipods are EVIL, this is hardcore PROOF.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Feral, May 11th, 2007 @ 7:52am

    I'll check with my dad

    My dad works with pacemakers and other types of devices in his job at the local hospital I'll ask him tonight what he thinks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Dosquatch, May 11th, 2007 @ 8:13am


    FTFA: 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 two inches from the patient's chest for five to 10 seconds.

    researcher 1:"Awwwright! We got us another twitcher!!"

    researcher 2:"Doitagin! Doitagin!!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Dosquatch, May 11th, 2007 @ 8:16am

    Re: Wondering

    FTFA: ...and in one case caused the pacemaker to stop functioning altogether.

    researcher 1:"Um....."

    researcher 2:[ERROR: Researcher 2 has left the building]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    dorpass, May 11th, 2007 @ 9:04am


    RG, so you imagine that a shuffle can be in your shirt pocket... but can you tell me which iPod was tested for this study? Though so.

    This study is ridiculous and the write up on it is certainly does not help. I can't even understand if these are hard drive based iPods or flash based. It would've also helped to test out other MP3 players and PMP players. And laptops while at it.

    I don't have an iPod and could care less about it winning/losing the sales battle, but some of the articles out there seem like paid-for assassination jobs (iPod's cause hearing damage for one) where somewhat reasonable concern is highlighted only when an iPod is used. Ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2007 @ 9:23am


    I frequently put my iPod in my shirt pocket which would be within two or three inches of my heart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Someone Who Actually Knows Something, May 11th, 2007 @ 9:58am

    I work for one of the pacing companies (actually on the device Tech Support team) and we tested this this morning. Absolutly no issues. I think it was irresponisble for the media to release this information in its incomplete form. All modern pacers use internal filters to keep the device for sensing low level interference. It generally takes a significant signal (think MRI or defibrillation) to really affect the device. Even then, most devices have protective circuitry to keep the patient supported.

    Typical media issue of not relaying all the information and creating a panic. This morning we have recieved at least 40 calls from concerned patients when there is no need for concern. Leave it to some stupid 17 year old kid who has no understanding of how these devices or wireless telemetry works to create a scare and the associated press to follow right behind him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2007 @ 11:57am

    Phew, I thought my pacemaker would interfere with my Ipod. Good thing it is just the other way around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    rEdEyEz, May 11th, 2007 @ 1:02pm

    hip-hop grammy

    From the makers of the iPod™, comes the new 12Gb iPace™, - for the senior citizen who "wants to have that extra hitch in their step!"

    Syncopated arrhythmia never felt so good!

    ...now safe for NYC jaywalkers...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Sushi Suzuki, May 11th, 2007 @ 1:10pm

    How about...

    having a compliance mechanism for CE devices so that they can protect themselves from these claims and for journalists to stop reusing the same stories for the next big thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Kevin, May 11th, 2007 @ 9:44pm

    To #14, they tested a 3rd gen iPod, a photo ipod, a video ipod, and a nano. (Google is your friend -- believe it or not the researchers didn't just produce a Reuters article.) Won't all ipods fit in a shirt or jacket pocket?

    Well said #7, I'm with you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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