According to research published this week, electromagnetic waves emitted by cell phones could affect the performance of pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), posing a significant risk to the wearer's health.
The negative influence of electromagnetic waves on health has already been demonstrated through numerous studies. However, researchers were interested in investigating how such waves also disturb the functioning of pacemakers and other cardiovascular devices. The impact has now been brought to light by a study presented at a joint congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA), the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and Cardiostim that took place in Milan on June 22.
"Pacemakers can mistakenly detect electromagnetic interference (EMI) from smartphones as a cardiac signal, causing them to briefly stop working. This leads to a pause in the cardiac rhythm of the pacing dependent patient and may result in syncope," explains Dr. Carsten Lennerz, one of the authors of the study. "For implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) the external signal mimics a life threatening ventricular tachyarrhythmia, leading the ICD to deliver a painful shock."
To reach these conclusions, those responsible for the study administered more than 3,400 electromagnetic interference tests to 308 people (147 with pacemakers, 96 with ICDs and 65 with cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices) with three types of smartphones (Nokia Lumia, Samsung Galaxy 3 and HTC One XL).
The goal was to determine if the recommendations of healthcare institutions, notably the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), were still relevant. These include a recommended safety distance of 15 to 20cm between pacemakers or ICDs and mobile phones, and using the cell phone on the ear opposite the side where the implant is located.
One out of the 308 participants (0.3%) was affected by EMI caused by smartphones. In response to this, Dr. Lennerz commented that "Interference between smartphones and cardiac devices is uncommon but can occur so the current recommendations on keeping a safe distance should be upheld. Interestingly, the device influenced by EMI in our study was MRI compatible which shows that these devices are also susceptible." The FDA's recommendations do not, however, take into account more recent technology such as ICDs and CRTs.