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iPads Could Affect Implanted Heart Devices: Study

Young researcher suggests that users avoid placing tablets too close to the chest

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- Sprawled out on the couch, reading the news on your iPad, you'd never think you could be putting yourself at risk. But you might be, if you happen to have an implanted heart device.

Magnetic interference could alter the settings and even deactivate the technology of implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), according to a small new study -- conducted by a 14-year-old investigator and her colleagues.

The researchers found that magnets imbedded in the iPad 2 and its Smart Cover may cause electromagnetic interference that can disrupt a cardiac rhythm device.

Specialized magnets are imbedded in the heart devices to allow physicians to routinely adjust their settings. The magnets can suspend the ability of the devices to prevent sudden rapid heart rates, such as tachycardia and fibrillation.

That risk occurs when a person falls asleep with the tablet on the chest. Thirty percent of study participants had interference with their devices when the iPad 2 was placed there, the researchers found. Yet electromagnetic interference was not found when the iPad was at a normal reading distance from the chest.

The magnetic field drops off quickly with distance, explained Gianna Chien, the lead study author. And heavier people who happen to have more fat on their chest -- not just in their abdomen -- also seem to be less sensitive to the interference, she added.

The research is scheduled to be presented Thursday at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in Denver. Chien, a high school freshman, worked with her father, Dr. Walter Chien, a cardiologist with Central Valley Arrhythmia in Stockton, Calif., to coordinate patient testing.

Other devices with imbedded magnets -- such as cellphones and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines -- may also affect cardiac rhythm devices, but were not tested in this study.

Last year, research published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics suggested that the iPad 2 can interfere with the settings of magnetically programmable shunt devices in the brain when held within two inches of the technology.

That study reported on a 4-month-old girl with hydrocephalus -- abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain -- who developed a shunt malfunction. This was due to a changed setting of the magnetically programmable valve that regulates the flow of CSF out of the brain cavity, or ventricle. The mother had been using an iPad 2 while holding the infant.

An expert noted how difficult it could be to detect such a malfunction.

"The real problem is that you don't even know; there is no trigger, no light goes off [to alert you]," said Dr. Salvatore Insinga, a neurosurgeon at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute at North Shore-LIJ Health System, in New York. "With all the tech devices people are using now and all the implanted things in patients, this is more of an issue now." Insinga was not associated with either study.

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