Headphones May Interfere with Pacemakers

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In recent years, researchers have become increasingly curious about how the electronics in portable media players might interact with embedded electronic devices like pacemakers and implanted defibrillators. Although iPods, Bluetooth headsets, and other devices have generally been found not to cause problems with these devices, new research suggests that headphones—you know, the very things people use with iPods and portable media players—might interfere with the operation of these medical devices.

Dr. William Maisel of the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center has presented research at a meeting of the American Heart Association in New Orleans in which eight different models of headphones were placed on the chests of 60 patients with defibrillators or pacemakers. In 14 of th 60 cases, the headphones interfered with the medical devices…and patients with internal defibrillators were twice as likely to experience interference as patients with pacemakers.

The headphones were placed within an inch of patients’ implanted devices. Researchers also measured the magnetic field strengths of each of the headphone models. Field strengths of 10 gauss or less are unlikely yo interfere with pacemakers or defibrillators even at close range, but some of the headphones had fields measuring 200 gauss or higher.

“Patients should not focus on the brands we tested but instead should simply be instructed to keep their headphones at least 3 cm from their implantable devices,” Maisel said. “For family members or friends of patients with implantable defibrillators, they should avoid wearing headphones and resting their head right on top of someone’s device,” he said.

Patients with these medical devices should also avoid putting headphones or earbuds in shirt or jacket pockets, or draping them over their chest.