Why an iPhone in the wrong pocket could stop your pacemaker working

Why an iPhone in the wrong pocket could stop your pacemaker working: Magnets inside devices are strong enough to disable life-saving heart equipment, researcher say

  • Magnets inside a recent iPhone model strong enough to affect pulse generators
  • Microsoft Surface Pen also has a ‘magnetic influence’ that can run interference 
  • A report in a medical journal said: ‘Heart patients should be aware of these risks’

Carrying a phone or a headphone charging case in a chest pocket could disable life-saving heart devices, researchers have warned.

A study has found magnets inside one of the latest iPhone models and AirPod headphone charging cases are strong enough to affect the pulse generators, which are similar to pacemakers.

They send electrical shocks to the heart if it beats too quickly to get it back on to a normal rhythm.

Tests show the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple AirPods Pro charging case, Apple Pencil 2nd Generation and Microsoft Surface Pen have an ‘area of magnetic influence’ that can interfere with pulse generators from just a few centimetres away.

Swiss scientists at the University of Basel and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern placed electronic products at different distances from the devices, called implantable cardioverter defibrillators, until they deactivated.

A report in journal Circulation: Arrhythmia And Electrophysiology said: ‘Heart patients should be aware of these risks.’ 

A study has found magnets inside one of the latest iPhone models and AirPod headphone charging cases are strong enough to affect the pulse generators, which are similar to pacemakers. (stock image)

Dr Corentin Fery, a research engineer at the university, said: ‘If you carry a portable electronic device close to your chest and have a history of tachycardia – rapid heartbeat – with an ICD, strong magnets in these devices could disable your cardioverter defibrillator.

‘Heart patients should be aware of these risks, and their doctor should tell them to be careful with these electronic devices with magnets.

‘These devices can cause a problem when carried in your shirt or jacket pocket in front of the chest, as well as when you are lying on the couch and resting the electronic device on your chest, or if you fall asleep with the electronic device.

‘The main thing to remember is that any electronic device may be a danger, especially ones with a magnet inside.’

Dr Corentin Fery, a research engineer at the university, said: ‘If you carry a portable electronic device close to your chest and have a history of tachycardia – rapid heartbeat – with an ICD, strong magnets in these devices could disable your cardioverter defibrillator.’ (Pictured: Smart phones on display)

Around 50,000 people in the UK are fitted with a pacemaker every year, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Dr Sven Kect, research engineer at University of Basel, Switzerland, said: ‘The public needs to be aware of the potential risks of portable electronic devices in addition to the iPhone 12 Pro Max that may affect anyone with an ICD.

‘What is most concerning is that magnets are being used in more and more portable electronic devices, and with so many magnets around us, the risk to cardiac patients is even greater.

‘This research was the first step in identifying the importance of assessing some products for safety.

‘The next step is to confirm these interactions by testing implanted devices in volunteer patients who are at the hospital for routine tests.’

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