iPods Can Cause PaceMaker Malfunctions?

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A study presented to heart researchers at the Heart Rhythm Society‘s annual meeting in Denver reports that interference from Apple’s now-iconic iPod media players can disrupt telemetry used in cardiac pacemakers—and maybe even cause them to shut down.

The study was presented by 17 year-old high school student Jay Thaker, with the University of Michigan’s Krit Jongnarangsin acting as the senior author. The study examined the use of iPods with 100 pateients at the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Institute at Michigan State University, and was able to detect electrical interference 50 percent of the time when the iPod was held two inches from the patient’s chest for five to ten seconds. In some cases, interference was detectable with the iPod as far as 18 inches from a patient’s chest, and in one case interference with telemetry gear caused a pacemaker to shut down because it couldn’t detect the patient’s heart rate.

The study concludes iPod interference could lead doctors to inaccurately assess patients’ heart function.

Thaker’s parents are both physicians: his mother is a rheumatologist and his father an electrophysiologist. Thaker got interested in the idea when he asked his father about possible interference from iPods. Jongnarangsin is a long-time friend of Thaker’s father.

The study did not examine possible interference from media players other than iPods, although it’s reasonable to assume many other units—particularly with integrated hard drives—may emit electrical interference. The average age of study participants was 77; although most pacemaker recipients are not in Apple’s target demographic for iPod sales, the units are gaining traction among seniors, many of whom enjoy listening to podcasts and viewing family videos and favorite shows.

Thaker told Reuters in a phone interview he is interested in studying the effects of iPods on implantable defibrillators.

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