THURSDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- Sprawled out on the couch,
reading the news on your iPad, you'd never think you could be
putting yourself at risk. But you might be, if you happen to have
an implanted heart device.
Magnetic interference could alter the settings and even
deactivate the technology of implantable cardioverter
defibrillators (ICDs), according to a small new study -- conducted
by a 14-year-old investigator and her colleagues.
The researchers found that magnets imbedded in the iPad 2 and
its Smart Cover may cause electromagnetic interference that can
disrupt a cardiac rhythm device.
Specialized magnets are imbedded in the heart devices to allow
physicians to routinely adjust their settings. The magnets can
suspend the ability of the devices to prevent sudden rapid heart
rates, such as tachycardia and fibrillation.
That risk occurs when a person falls asleep with the tablet on
the chest. Thirty percent of study participants had interference
with their devices when the iPad 2 was placed there, the
researchers found. Yet electromagnetic interference was not found
when the iPad was at a normal reading distance from the chest.
The magnetic field drops off quickly with distance, explained
Gianna Chien, the lead study author. And heavier people who happen
to have more fat on their chest -- not just in their abdomen --
also seem to be less sensitive to the interference, she added.
The research is scheduled to be presented Thursday at the Heart
Rhythm Society's annual meeting in Denver. Chien, a high school
freshman, worked with her father, Dr. Walter Chien, a cardiologist
with Central Valley Arrhythmia in Stockton, Calif., to coordinate
Other devices with imbedded magnets -- such as cellphones and
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines -- may also affect
cardiac rhythm devices, but were not tested in this study.
Last year, research published in the
Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatricssuggested that the iPad 2
can interfere with the settings of magnetically programmable shunt
devices in the brain when held within two inches of the
That study reported on a 4-month-old girl with hydrocephalus --
abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain --
who developed a shunt malfunction. This was due to a changed
setting of the magnetically programmable valve that regulates the
flow of CSF out of the brain cavity, or ventricle. The mother had
been using an iPad 2 while holding the infant.
An expert noted how difficult it could be to detect such a
"The real problem is that you don't even know; there is no trigger, no light goes off [to alert you]," said Dr. Salvatore Insinga, a neurosurgeon at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System, in New York. "With all the tech devices people are using now and all the implanted things in patients, this is more of an issue now." Insinga was not associated with either study.
The new heart rhythm device study involved 27 patients at
Central Valley Arrhythmia. Just three patients were women. All were
at least 50 years old and had implantable cardiac defibrillators,
pacemakers or loop recorders (implanted cardiac monitors). The
effect of the close presence of an iPad2 on the chest and at
reading distance -- at various programming settings on the iPad and
on the heart devices -- was noted.
The authors found that almost 19 percent of the patients with
defibrillators had interference from the iPad 2. No effects were
noted in the people who had implanted pacemakers or the loop
Gianna Chien said the study had limitations: The sample size was
small, and she would like to test a wider variation of heart
devices, because most were manufactured by St. Jude Medical.
The bottom line? Insinga at Cushing Neuroscience recommended
that physicians discuss with their patients the risks that
technological devices may pose to the settings and function of any
implanted devices, and check their patients' medical devices
frequently. "No more 'set it and forget it,'" he said.
Chien thinks the issue will continue to pose problems unless the
design of tablets changes. "With the aging of the population,
there's an expected increase in ICD placement and, with more than
100 million iPads sold, it's a concern," she said.
Because the study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
Learn more about
heart device safetyfrom the U.S. National Library
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