microwave oven
Heart Health

Pacemakers and Appliances: Caution Advised

Ordinary household appliances and electrical tools can interfere with pacemakers if the devices are used very close to the body, according to new research.

The finding was published in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) journal Circulation.

The researchers said that the danger comes from electric and magnetic fields (EMF) generated by the appliances and tools.

At the same time, the investigators said that the risk was low if pacemaker safety precautions and standards were followed. “Electromagnetic interferences with pacemakers in everyday life can occur; however, harmful interferences are rare using vendors’ recommended device settings,” said Andreas Napp, M.D., study author and cardiologist at RWTH Aachen University Hospital in Aachen, Germany. “Dedicated device programming is an effective measure to reduce the individual risk of interference. For example, doctors can reprogram pacemakers to a lower sensitivity to reduce EMF susceptibility.”

Researchers tested under different conditions the impacts of EMF exposure on 119 patients with pacemakers, which are small battery-operated devices that help patients’ hearts to beat in a regular rhythm. The patients were exposed to an EMF similar to common exposure, and then increasing the EMF until the researchers noted a pacemaker sensing failure.

Their conclusion: pacemakers are susceptible to EMFs that can occur in everyday life, when the pacemaker is programmed to maximum sensitivity. According to a Heart Association news release, examples of EMF sources are powerlines, household appliances, electrical tools and entertainment electronics.

In many cases, the news release said, holding the EMF source from the body at a distance greater than 12 inches can reduce the risk of electromagnetic interference. But further measures might be needed in environments with strong EMF, such as engines used in the processing or manufacturing industry, Napp said.

“Electromagnetic interference with pacemakers can result in bradycardia, or a slow heart rate,” Napp said. “The risk of interference depends on many different factors, such as the settings of the implant or strength of the field source. In occupational environments, such as the manufacturing industry, an individual risk assessment for workers with a pacemaker is required due to the presence of a strong EMF.”

For information from the AHA about living with a pacemaker, click here.