Can Phones Interfere with Pacemakers?

FDA releases guidance on magnetic interference with implanted medical devices

(RxWiki News) Can your phone make your heart skip a beat? It's possible but unlikely, health officials say.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new information about its efforts to understand the possible interference of consumer electronics with implanted medical devices.

For years, news reports and some research has suggested that strong magnets inside smartphones, smart watches and other electronics could cause problems with implanted medical devices like pacemakers and implanted defibrillators.

The FDA checked in on this theory by reviewing recent research on the subject and conducting its own testing. Here's the bottom line:

"We believe the risk to patients is low and the agency is not aware of any adverse events associated with this issue at this time," said Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a press release. "However, the number of consumer electronics with strong magnets is expected to increase over time. Therefore, we recommend people with implanted medical devices talk with their health care provider to ensure they understand this potential risk and the proper techniques for safe use."

The agency added that strong magnets in some devices may be capable of placing some implanted medical devices into "magnet mode." This is a setting designed to allow for procedures that involve magnets, such as MRIs. Magnet mode may keep the device from working the way it normally would until the device is no longer inside the magnetic field, the FDA said.

Although the FDA said the overall risk of this issue appeared to be low, it doubled down on guidance from years ago: Keep phones and similar electronics at least six inches away from implanted devices. That means not carrying your smartphone in your shirt pocket if you have a cardiac implant.

The FDA said it would continue to monitor this issue and release more information when it becomes available.

If you are concerned about any aspect of your implanted medical device, speak with your health care provider.

Review Date: 
May 20, 2021