Medtronic Addresses iPad Magnetic Interference with ICDs, Pacemakers

In response to concerns about the risk of magnetic interference for implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and pacemakers around iPads and other portable electronic devices, Medtronic has issued a statement indicating that patients should keep iPads at least six inches away from any implanted device.  

In a safety statement issued by Medtronic, the medical device maker indicates that there is no risk of electromagnetic interference when defibrillators and pacemakers are used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Therefore, Medtronic is reminding patients to remain vigilant about maintaining the recommended distance between iPads and ICDs, pursuant to the product labeling.

The statement comes after an internal analysis of the risk of interference from iPad technology, in response to a study started by a 14-year-old Colorado school student, Gianna Chien, who presented her findings on iPad 2 interference with ICDs at the Heart Rhythm Society meeting last week in Denver.

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According to the study, iPad magnets may cause electromagnetic interference that can change the settings of an implantable heart device or even deactivate the ICDs. The interference can occur due to specialized magnets in ICDs which allow doctors to adjust the settings. This capability also allows outside magnets, such as the ones found in iPads and their cases, to interfere with their proper functioning. The magnets may cause the ICDs to switch to “magnet mode.” In certain cases, the ICDs will switch back after the magnets are taken away. In other cases, the ICDs will need to be reactivated by a doctor.

Despite the company’s indication that “iPad technology presents no risk of electromagnetic interference with Medtronic implantable cardiac rhythm devices when used per manufacturer’s instructions,” the company warned that ICD Therapy suspension and asynchronous pacing of IPG can occur if the ICD is exposed to a magnet with a static magnetic field greater than 10 gauss.

ICDs are small devices surgically implanted into a patient’s chest to prevent sudden rapid heartbeat, such as tachycardia. If a patient experiences an irregular heartbeat, the ICD delivers a small jolt of electricity to correct the heart beat.

An irregular heart beat can result in death, thus making the ICD an important life saving tool. Because ICDs are only activated when an arrhythmia occurs, if a magnet deactivates the device a patient can be put in severe risk.

The small study, which originally began as the 14-year old’s science project, found 30% of patients experienced interference with their implanted cardiac devices when an iPad 2 was placed near their chest. The electromagnetic interference subsided when the iPad was at a normal reading distance from the chest, more than six inches away.

According to the findings, the highest risk occurs when patients fall asleep with the device on their chest.

To date there have been no known incidences of electromagnetic interference in ICDs with iPad use. However, more than 100 million iPads have been sold which can translate to an increased risk for patients with implanted cardiac devices, considering the increase in ICD placement.

Researchers recommend doctors discuss a patients risk of ICD use among an increased presence of technology driven devices. They also warn other brands of tablets with magnets, cell phones and MRI machines may cause interference as well.

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