Your Health

iPod Headphones And Pacemakers Don't Mix

Be careful putting iPod headphones and pacemakers on the same playlist.

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Keep those earbuds where they belong, for safety's sake. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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earbuds

Keep those earbuds where they belong, for safety's sake.

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The tiny yet powerful magnets that make the big noise in those earbuds and headphones for personal electronic devices can make implanted defibrillators and pacemakers go haywire.

Dr. William Maisel, a cardiologist who founded the Medical Device Safety Institute, and some colleagues tested a bunch of portable headphones, some cheap and some expensive, from local electronics stores. To their surprise, the magnets inside the headphones were up to 20 times the strength needed to interfere with a pacemaker.

Maisel and his group then put the headphones near patients with implanted cardiac devices and checked for interference. In 30 percent of cases the headphones created interference that could block the devices. Defibrillators, which deliver big jolts to shock malfunctioning hearts into normal rhythm, were more susceptible to jamming than pacemakers.

The findings appear in the current issue of the journal HeartRhythm.

The problems disappeared once headphones were moved away from the chest—at least 1.2 inches from the devices.

If you've got a pacemaker of defibrillator, listening to music is OK, Maisel says. But folks with these kinds of implants shouldn't drape headphones over their shoulders, put them in a shirt or front jacket pocket or let kids wearing them get too close.

Maisel got interested in the issue after a 17-year-old Michigan high school student presented a paper on the topic at a scientific meeting two years ago.

Last year, a Food and Drug Administration study showed his work was flawed. Still, Maisel says the student, Jay Thaker, "deserves a lot of credit for bringing the issue to the forefront and for fostering more study of the issue."

Thaker, now 19 and a junior at Michigan State University, said, "With technology continually developing faster, we really have to keep an eye on how it's going to interact with these different medical devices, so we can keep patients safe and keep them aware of what's going on."

You can hear more in this report for All Things Considered.

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