A bad beat: iPods can interfere with pacemakers

Does your pacemaker love an iPod?: Research by a high school student shows significant troubles with iPod music devices and pacemakers working together in close proximity. Electromagnetic fields put out by the iPod can interfere with the performance of a pacemaker. (Photo by DRA studios)
Here’s news that you don’t need to be a highly-degreed scientist to make a scientific research breakthrough.

A high school student in Michigan has discovered that there are dangers of using an iPod if you’ve got a pacemaker inside your chest. Doing a test with 100 elderly patients who had pacemakers monitoring the beating of their hearts, the student found out that iPods caused electrical interference with the pacemakers 50 percent of the time when they’re within two inches of the site of the pacemaker. Other interference issues were discovered when an iPod was held 18 inches away from a pacemaker. In one instance, the electrical influence of an iPod stopped a pacemaker completely.

The average age of the participants of the study was 77. They listened to Frank Sinatra music with the iPod’s earbuds resting on their shoulders as not to blow out their hearing. And while iPods are not commonly used among people of that age group, student Jay Thayer pointed out that the information is still vital for pacemaker wearers to know as they may have grandchildren or neighbors using iPods nearby them.

It’s believed that the electromagnetic field put out when the iPod is playing causes interference with the performance of the pacemaker in the heart. No other types of MP3 music playing devices were tested in the study.

That’s all good information. But what I really want to know is what would happen if you listened to music on your iPod by that old 60s band, Gary and the Pacemakers? But seriously, can you think of any other medical issues that might present themselves with using in iPod? Share them here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Speaking about electromagnetic fields. I have an EMF detector and when I put the low frequency(ELF) sensor up to the earbud, the reading goes far beyond the maximum reading!!! WOW!! So one can make the assumption that listening to music on your ipod is like putting your head next to a microwave oven or next to an electrical outlet. Pretty scary thought.

posted on Tue, 07/31/2007 - 8:15pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Not so scary, actually.

"Radiation," at its simplest, is nothing but energy that travels in waves or as subatomic particles. And the electromagnetic spectrum is all radiation--radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays.

All kinds of radiation aren't the same.

Many types of radiation--especially radio waves and microwaves--are passing through our bodies all the time, and they don't do any damage at all. Radio waves, microwaves, and infrared and visible light, no matter your exposure level, don't carry enough energy to knock electrons loose and cause cellular damage.

The dangerous kind of radiation is ionizing radiation, which carries enough energy to knock electrons loose from atoms (potentially damaging DNA). Ionizing radiation comes from ultraviolet light, X-rays, or gamma rays. More than 80% of the ionizing radiation you encounter on a daily basis comes from natural sources: cosmic rays (atomic particles from space), and alpha and beta particles from radioactive gas, particularly radon. (Radon accounts for nearly 70% of natural ionizing radiation.) It's unavoidable. The other radiation exposure comes from medical imaging.

Paul Brodeur wrote a series of articles in the 1970s for the New Yorker, and then a book called The Zapping of America, that fueled the fear of microwaves. One often-cited fact is that the electromagnetic radiation from microwaves, radar, and television has increased 100 million times since World War II. Probably true, but that amount is still tiny compared to natural background radiation from the sun, the Earth, and our own bodies. Brodeur also wrote Currents of Death, alleging that electric power lines (which transmit electromagnetic force, or EMF) are dangerous.

Brodeur is wrong.

Electrical equipment (including electric power lines) and microwaves are safe, and there are lots of studies to prove it. (The National Academy of Sciences did an exhaustive three-year review, published in 1997, that found no connection between power lines and any kind of cancer. And the National Institutes of Health, in 1997, competed a seven-year study that also found no link. Oh, and the Canadians published a study in 1999 with the same results.)

Cell phones are safe too. (Check out major studies in The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Society in December, 2000, and a big European study published in 2002.)

So go ahead and listen to that iPod, next to an electrical outlet, while using your microwave--as long as you keep it well away from your pacemaker. You're not doing yourself any harm. But maybe hold off on that run in a thunderstorm...

posted on Wed, 08/01/2007 - 8:53am
wraithdrudge's picture
wraithdrudge says:

music or death ....................i think gramps can put down the music box.

posted on Wed, 10/15/2008 - 3:57pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

actually radiation also comes in the form of the nucleus of a helium atom not just sub atomic particles because they are at a basic level, electrons protons and neutrons. a nucleus contains the sub-atomic particles protons and neutrons.

posted on Tue, 11/24/2009 - 3:23pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Older people had no electronics but us kids do. I wonder how we will turn out...

posted on Tue, 02/23/2010 - 2:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I have a pacemaker, I'm 32 and have had one since I was 16, and I am far from being the youngest person to have had one. They are more common than you would imagine and so this research doesn't just affect grandparents!

posted on Sat, 02/26/2011 - 9:25pm

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