iPhone 12 Magnets May Disrupt Cardiovascular Implants, Researchers Warn

The findings of a new study raise serious concerns about health risks which may result from use of an iPhone 12, indicating magnets included in the latest design for the smartphone may interfere with a pacemaker or other heart implant, potentially disrupting life-saving treatments when needed.

Various models of the iPhone 12 were introduced in the fourth quarter of 2020, featuring magnets used with “MagSafe” accessories, such as wireless charging devices and stands.

According to a report published last month in the medical journal Heart Rhythm, electromagnetic fields from the iPhone 12 cell phones may interfere with, or disable, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD) and other cardiovascular implants, which could lead to severe injury or death.

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Researchers from Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, wanted to test the interaction of iPhone magnets on a patient with a Medtronic ICD. The study was first approved by the institutional review board and later conducted at the Henry Ford Heart & Vascular Institute.

According to the findings, when an Apple iPhone 12 cell phone was brought close to the ICD over the left chest area, the ICD functions immediately stopped. The ICD could not be made to function as long as the iPhone was near the chest area, the researchers report. Once the iPhone was taken away, function resumed.

ICDs are used to manage ventricular arrhythmias in patients with high-risk cardiac conditions. They are like pacemakers in the way they can deliver lifesaving interventions using electrical shocks to the heart in the event of the heart stopping or other emergencies.

The implants contain a battery, capacitors and a sensing/pacing circuit together with an intracardiac or extracardiac lead placed into the heart. They have a switch that responds to externally applied magnetic fields. When an external magnet is applied to a defibrillator, high-voltage shock therapy for ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation is stopped.

The Apple iPhone 12 cell phone line features a circular array of magnets around a central charging coil, which line up with wireless charging devices to increase speed. MagSafe technology, such as chargers and cases, contain a magnetometer and a single-coil, near-field communication reader. The magnets in the cell phone or MagSafe components make device to device interaction possible.

The testing of the interaction between the iPhone and ICD implants was reproduced multiple times with different positions of the phone over the breast pocket. Each time, the ICD stopped functioning, the researchers report.

Researchers are now recommending that doctors and device manufacturers make patients aware of the potential interaction of iPhone 12 and other smart wearables with ICD devices.

However, they note there is minimal risk of interference with older generation smartphones, since they do not have MagSafe components.

While the Apple website does mention magnetic interference with medical devices, researchers indicate that these warnings should be more prominent and more should be done to raise awareness among individuals with ICD or other implants.

“We hereby report an important public health issue concerning the newer-generation iPhone 12, which potentially can inhibit lifesaving therapy in a patient, particularly when the phone is carried in an upper chest pocket,” the researchers wrote. “Medical device manufacturers and implanting physicians should remain vigilant about making patients aware of this significant interaction of the iPhone 12 and other smart wearables with their cardiac implantable electronic devices.”

In the United States, more than 300,000 people undergo surgery every year to have ICDs implanted. Roughly one out of every four cell phones sold last year was an iPhone 12, according to the study.


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