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May 28, 2013

Magnets in iPad 2 May Interfere with Heart Devices

A study conducted by a 14-year-old student finds that the iPad 2 interferes with implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

Tablet computers are more popular now than ever. They serve as phone, computer, book, and camera—all wrapped up in one—and most tablet owners keep them close by at all times. But thanks to a small study conducted for a high school science fair, a 14-year-old girl recently found that keeping an iPad 2 too close could harm patients with an implanted heart device.

Gianna Chien, a high school freshman in California, presented her findings earlier this May at the Heart Rhythm Society’s 2013 scientific sessions in Denver. With the help of her father, a cardiologist, Chien enrolled 26 patients into her study, all of whom had implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs)—devices that help control heart rhythm in patients at risk for sudden cardiac death. Most patients with ICD’s have an irregular heart beat called arrhythmia, and the device uses electrical pulses to help the heart maintain a normal rhythm. Although these devices are designed to turn off when in the presence of magnets, this safety precaution has raised concerns for iPad users. Containing more than 30 small magnets to keep its case in place, the iPad 2 can interfere with implanted heart devices. Chien found that when rested against the chest, the iPad 2 triggered "magnet mode" in one-third of study patients.

This research is considered preliminary, but findings certainly raise concerns for patients with ICDs. Although it’s safe to own and use the iPad 2, experts advise against resting the tablet against the chest, which can occur when falling asleep while reading. And the same goes for many other types of new technology that could contain magnets and interfere with implanted heart devices. It’s important to always maintain at least six inches between an ICD and an iPad or similar device, and patients with ICDs should always be cautious about bringing objects containing magnets too close to the body.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)?
  • An ICD is a device that uses electrical pulses or shocks to help patients with an irregular heartbeat maintain normal heart rhythm. Upon detecting an abnormal heart rhythm, ICDs send shocks to the heart to help restore normal rhythm and prevent sudden cardiac death.
  • What is the difference between an ICD and a pacemaker?
  • The biggest difference between an ICD and pacemaker is that an ICD continually monitors heart rhythm and can send low- or high-energy electrical pulses to correct an abnormal heart rhythm. ICDs will initially send low-energy pulses to restore heart rhythm but switch to high-energy pulses when the low-energy shocks are ineffective. Pacemakers, however, only give low-energy electrical pulses to restore regular heartbeat. Therefore, ICDs are more effective in patients at high-risk for or history of sudden cardiac arrest, who may need these more powerful, high-energy electrical pulses to restore their regular heartbeat.

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