Study Finds Everyday Household Items May Negatively Affect Pacemakers’ Normal Function

A new study published in the medical journal Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, concluded that exposure to certain everyday electric and magnetic fields may affect the normal function of pacemakers in heart patients. A pacemaker is a small, battery-operated medical device implanted to help the heart beat in a normal, regular rhythm.

The study, conducted at the University Hospital Aachen in Germany, and funded by the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the Energy, Textile, Electric, and Media Products Sector and the Research Unit for Electropathology, observed the affect on 119 patients’ pacemakers after exposure to certain electric and magnetic fields.

Pacemakers have either a unipolar lead where there is only one contact point with the heart, or bipolar leads which have two heart contact points. Researchers observed patients with both unipolar and bipolar leads, and evaluated the affect of electromagnetic fields at both basic and maximum sensitivity. Power grids normally emit frequencies of 50 Hertz (Hz) or 60 Hz.

All of the patients in the study with pacemakers having unipolar leads were affected at 50 Hz at both basic and maximum sensitivity, while those with pacemakers having bipolar leads were affected 72% of the time at maximum sensitivity, and 36% of the time at basic sensitivity.

Researchers concluded pacemaker patients’ exposure to normal electric and magnetic fields such as those found in power lines, household appliances, electrical tools and entertainment systems may affect the proper function of their pacemakers.

The lead author, Dr. Andreas Napp, explained, “Usually pacemakers programmed to the vendor’s recommended settings are safe regarding electromagnetic interference in daily practice. However, lots of electrical appliances from daily life emit strong electromagnetic fields in very close proximity of the appliance. Pacemakers with electromagnetic interference usually show inhibition of stimulating the heart or change the pacing mode or induce a faster heartbeat for the time of interference.”

Researchers suggest standing more than 12 inches away from household appliances and devices that emit strong electromagnetic fields might be enough to reduce any negative affect on the pacemaker’s proper function.

Researchers also cautioned patients who work as welders and in certain manufacturing jobs might have an increased risk of potential interference with the normal function of their pacemaker because of their exposure to increased levels of electric and magnetic fields. Before agreeing to pacemaker implantation, researchers recommend informing your doctor of the increased exposure to strong electromagnetic fields in your job, and to notify your doctor right away if you begin to feel “odd” or similar to how you felt before receiving the pacemaker.