Pacemakers may malfunction near household electronics: 5 study findings

Household appliances that generate electric and magnetic fields may cause pacemakers to malfunction, according to a study published Monday in Circulation.

Here are five things to know.

1. For the study, research exposed 119 people with pacemakers to electric and magnetic fields with frequencies of 50 to 60 hertz — similar to levels used by power grids. Researchers then increased the exposure level until they detected pacemaker failure, reports Reuters.

2. Five study participants had unipolar leads, meaning their pacemaker had just one point of contact with the heart. The remaining participants had bipolar leads, or two points of contact, according to the report.

3. All five patients with unipolar leads and pacemakers set to either basic or maximum sensitivity experienced electromagnetic interference at the initial exposure level of 50 hertz.

4. In patients with bipolar leads, electromagnetic interference occurred for about 72 percent of pacemakers set at maximum sensitivity and 36 percent of cases set to a basic sensitivity, according to the study.

5. Based on these results, researchers conclude electric and magnetic fields from power lines, household appliances, electrical tools and entertainment systems could interfere with pacemakers.

"Usually pacemakers programmed to the vendor's recommended settings are safe regarding electromagnetic interference in daily practice," Dr. Andreas Napp of the University Hospital Aachen in Germany told Reuters via email. "However, lots of electrical appliances from daily life emit strong electromagnetic fields in very close proximity of the appliance … Pacemakers with electromagnetic interference usually show inhibition of stimulating the heart or change the pacing mode or induce a faster heart beat for the time of interference."

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