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  • Writer's pictureEleanor A. O'Rangers, Pharm D

Do you have a pacemaker or internal cardiac defibrillator?

That new iPhone 12 you just purchased can interfere with proper functioning of those devices

In an analysis published in Journal of the American Heart Association (click here for the full study), researchers found that magnets built into the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max interfered with 3 implanted cardiac devices and 8 of 11 (~73%) different pacemakers and implantable defibrillators (not yet placed in patients) from Abbott, Boston Scientific and Medtronic. While this report evaluated a small number of devices, the results might not be the same for all pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

The problem seems to be triggered by magnetic charging technology built into the iPhone 12.

The authors noted that an older study using the iPhone 6 resulted in zero cases of interference after tests with 148 different patients, so this is a new issue that needs to be taken seriously.

In a prepared statement from the American Heart Association that was released along with the publication noted above, lead study investigator, Michael Wu, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, and Director of the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at the Rhode Island and Miriam Hospital’s Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute and Brown University’s Warren Alpert School of Medicine noted that “we have always known that magnets can interfere with cardiac implantable electronic devices, however, we were surprised by the strength of the magnets used in the iPhone 12 magnet technology. In general, a magnet can change a pacemaker’s timing or deactivate a defibrillator’s lifesaving functions, and this research indicate the urgency for everyone to be aware that electronic devices with magnets can interfere with cardiac implantable electronic devices.”

Additionally, cardiologist and electrophysiologist Mark A. Estes, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Director of the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at the Heart and Vascular Institute of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine provided some additional advice:

“The American Heart Association and manufacturers of pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators have long recommended that cell phones be used in the ear opposite the side of the body of an implanted device, and that the cell phones be kept at least 10 cm away from the device, therefore not in a shirt or coat pocket on the same side as the cardiac device. While the risk from temporary interference was only tested with specific devices and cell phones, the Association reminds people with cardiac implantable electronic devices to remain informed of the latest FDA guidance for their heart device, the manufacturers’ safety guidelines and to contact their health care professional with any questions or concerns.“

The FDA published its own advisory on how consumer electronics are beginning to affect medical devices, noting that the number of affected devices “is expected to increase over time.”

Any patients concerned about the potential issue are advised to speak with a clinician.

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