iPad 2 Magnets May Cause Problems with Brain Shunts: Study

New research suggests that magnets embedded in the Apple iPad 2 and other tablets may interfere with the settings of magnetically programmable brain shunt valves. 

In a study published this week in the online edition of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, researchers tested the magnets and found that they could change the shunt’s settings if held too close to the valve.

The report comes after the tablet affected a programmable shunt in a 4-month-old girl with hydrocephalus.

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Researchers exposed valves to iPad2 tablets at a variety of distances more than 500 times and found that at distances of up to 1 centimeter, the settings changed in 58% of the valves. The rate dropped to 5% between distances of 1 to 2.5 cm.

The study concluded that changes can occur when the iPad2 is held within 5 centimeters of the valve. Such a change may result in shunt malfunction until the problem is recognized and the valve is adjusted to the proper setting.

The potential problems with brain shunts affected by the iPad magnets were discovered after doctors found that settings were in the magnetically programmable valve of 4-month-old, just three weeks after the brain shunt was implanted to regulate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. The baby’s mother stated that she had used an iPad 2 while holding the infant.

The brain shunts are used in cases of hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain.” Hydrocephalus is cause by a problem with the flow of the fluid that surrounds the brain and results in a buildup of fluid inside the skull that leads to brain swelling.. This fluid is called the cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF. It surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and helps cushion the brain. Too much CSF puts pressure on the brain. This pushes the brain up against the skull and damage brain tissue.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, hydrocephalus affects approximately 1 in every 500 children.  

Issues regarding programmable shunt valves are not new. Two years ago, Integra NeuroSciences recalled their Gravity Compensating Accessory (High Pressure Range), part of a brain shunt system used to prevent too much fluid from being redirected from the brain to the abdomen while sitting or standing. The device was being recalled because it may leak cerebrospinal fluid. This could cause inflammation of the spinal cord, brain or abdominal membranes, failure of the shunt system or exert pressure on the wound created by implantation of the device.

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