Study says iPods can mess with pacemakers

Study says iPods can mess with pacemakers

Summary: ComputerWorld has details of a study carried out that suggests that iPods can cause pacemakers to malfunction. But is this an iPod issue or an issue to do with the robustness of pacemakers.


ComputerWorld has details of a study carried out that suggests that iPods can cause pacemakers to malfunction.  But is this an iPod issue or an issue to do with the robustness of pacemakers.

The lead author of the study is Jay Thaker, a 17-year-old student at Okemos High School in Okemos, Michigan (whose father is an electrophysiologist and whose mother is a rheumatologist, so I'm pretty sure he had lots of help ...).  The study found that electrical interference was detected half of the time when the iPod was held just two inches from the patient's chest for 5 -10 seconds.  Interference was detected when the iPod was held 18 inches from the chest and in one case the interference caused the pacemaker to stop functioning altogether.

Now, I don't have the facilities to test this kind of claim (damn it Jim, I'm a PC Doctor, not a doctor ...) but I do have to wonder why the study didn't examine the effects of other media players on pacemakers.  Why pick on the iPod in particular?  Also, I haven't found out what kind of iPod was involved in the study.

But ultimately, I feel that the point is being missed.  It's not so much that iPods mess with pacemakers, but that pacemakers are (if the study is correct) are susceptible to interference from common household devices.  Rather than make it sound like it's an issue to do with iPods, it sounds to me like it's more to do with pacemakers.  Given the fact that we're surrounded by electronic devices, it seems that pacemakers aren't built with this in mind.  I know that older pacemakers were adjusted using magnets and such but modern pacemakers are adjusted digitally using a radio signal so I'd be interested in knowing the mechanism by which iPods can wirelessly mess with a fitted pacemaker.

On a personal note, I'd like to know how Thaker convinced 100 people fitted with pacemakers to help him with this study. 

    "Excuse me, mind if I wave this iPod close to your chest?" 


    "Well, to see if it causes your pacemaker to go haywire."



Topic: Apple

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • One other minor detail missing

    Were these hard drive iPods only, or did flash iPods cause the same problems? I say that because we all know hard drive iPods are on their way out, so this would solve the problem.

    Well... it wouldn't stop some street rogue from attacking a pacemaker patient with their older iPod, but as you've said there are a whole host of other devices they could use too.
    Michael Kelly
    • I doubt it's just going to be the one...

      Second, I am with the Author where the problem should be tackled with the PACEMAKER and not the device. I doubt the iPod is the only device to do it.
      • If I remember correctly...

        ...don't devices such as TVs and stereos have to be constructed so as not to send out any interference? Seems to me that a media player such as the iPod should be subject to the same requirements.

        Carl Rapson
        • Actually...

          They can send/receive interference. But it has to be within the federal guidelines.

          Nothing is susceptible to not receiving/sending interference if it's electrical.
  • Buying Apple can KILL YOU

    [i]Get A Mac - You'll Be Happy Until The Day You Die... Tomorrow[/i]

    If the disgust associated with supporting an organization sleazy enough to release a slew of attack ads and paranoid enough to embed a TPM DRM chip in every Mac isn't enough to stop you from buying Apple, now it has been proven that buying Apple can [b]KILL YOU[/b]. Buy a non-Apple PC, the life you save could very well be yours.
    • Using cellphones can cause just as much damage to pacemakers .

      Even drinking and smoking can kill you . The Zealot called Non-Zealot is just a jealous hater because he can't stand to see another company succeed where Microsoft is failing . If anything Apple is doing well unlike Microsoft who continues to be plagued because of it's buggy software .

      Hackers hijack Windows Update's downloader
      Stealing Windows' BITS gets bad code past any firewall
      I'm Ye, the MS SHILL .
      • If you read the article

        "The study did not examine any portable music devices other than iPods, which are made by Apple Inc."
        • If you had enough sense you'd known Microswaves can kill pacemaker patient

          Seems as ZDNET is going all out this weekend to deflect any criticism from their beloved Microsoft . The fact remains that Microsoft has so many problems that they are just not being fixed fast enough for the end consumer . It's nice to sell products , but if there is a problem , fix it immediately and don't sit on it & try and deflect all criticisms to other companies . Sheesh !
          I'm Ye, the MS SHILL .
          • Uhm...

            I am not arguing with you man..
          • And yet...

            "It's nice to sell products , but if there is a problem , fix it immediately and don't sit on it & try and deflect all criticisms to other companies ."

   you are trying to deflect criticism aweay from Apple and onto Microsoft. :)

            Carl Rapson
    • Your Zealotry is astounding...

      Mike Cox the 2nd.. I get it now.
    • gfy

    • Wow, that was brilliant

      As I recall, plenty of PC makers are adding TPM chips. Especially now that Vista wants one for Bit Locker. So, your rant was kinda pointless.

      Further, I don't know how many people with pace makers where an iPod close to their chest, but I have to ask myself: "Self, does anyone where an iPod close to their heart?" and then follow it up with: "Self, do we have any idea how close the iPod must be to have a deleterious effect on a pacemaker?" You know, if the iPod has to remain at least 4" away, then anyone with a pacemaker could safely use an iPod.

      "Self, how long does the iPod have to be against my chest before my pacemaker starts having problems? And what are the chances that the problems are going to be fatal? Will I miss one heartbeat? Will the problems go away as soon as the iPod is gone?"

      Just to say that it caused interference doesn't do much more than reveal a problem. It doesn't handle the root cause or any supplementary issues.

      Now, I am not a Dr, but I thought that pacemakers only fired off on occasion, not continuously. So, I would have assumed that this interference was only a problem if the pacemaker kicked on during the interference.
      • OSX is the only OS that REQUIRES TPM DRM

        I can disable the TPM chip that is in my computer and Vista will work just fine. Try doing the same on your Mac and poof, OSX itself stops working. Why? Because someone else might be a thief.
  • Pacemaker interference

    It has been widely acknowledged (and proven) that insufficiently shielded microwave ovens (and other MW sources) can interfere with cardiac pacemakers (internal or external). And, no doubt, RFI in certain frequencies can do the same. This is one reason why cell phones and pagers are required to be turned off when visiting patients in cardiac intensive care units.

    Neither the study nor the various articles written about it have stated which particular iPod model was used for the "tests", but it seems likely to me that *any* electronic music player with insufficient shielding could have the same disruptive effect on modern implanted pacemakers.

    Let's not shoot Apple for this. Chances are that they followed the Federal goobermint's guidelines and rules concerning RFI in designing their music players. Perhaps the goobermint needs to revisit their own standards and tighten them up a tad.

    That having been said...if I had a pacemaker, there's no way that I'd be clipping an iPod Shuffle onto a piece of clothing anywhere close to where my pacemaker was! ;)
    M.R. Kennedy