Interference with Cardiac Pacemakers

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005 Mar 15;45(6):896-900.

Clinical study of interference with cardiac pacemakers by a magnetic field at power line frequencies.

Trigano A, Blandeau O, Souques M, Gernez JP, Magne I.

Department of Cardiology, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Nord, Marseille, France.


OBJECTIVES: This study examined the risk of interference by high magnetic flux density with permanent pacemakers. BACKGROUND: Several forms of electromagnetic energy may interfere with the functions of implanted pacemakers. No clinical study has reported specific and relevant information pertaining to magnetic fields near power lines or electrical appliances. METHODS: A total of 250 consecutive tests were performed in 245 recipients of permanent pacemakers during 12-lead electrocardiographic monitoring. A dedicated exposure system generated a 50-Hz frequency and maximum 100-microT flux density, while the electrical field was kept at values on the order of 0.10 V/m. RESULTS: A switch to the asynchronous mode was recorded in three patients with devices programmed in the unipolar sensing configuration. A sustained mode switch was followed by symptomatic pacing inhibition in one patient. No effect on devices programmed in bipolar sensing was observed, except for a single interaction with a specific capture monitoring algorithm. CONCLUSIONS: The overall incidence of interaction by a magnetic field was low in patients tested with a wide variety of conventionally programmed pacemaker models. A magnetic field pulsed at power frequency can cause a mode switch and pacing inhibition in patients with devices programmed in the unipolar sensing configuration. The risk of interference appears negligible in patients with bipolar sensing programming.

AACN Clin Issues. 2004 Jul-Sep;15(3):391-403.

Electromagnetic interference in cardiac rhythm management devices.

Sweesy MW, Holland JL, Smith KW.

Pacer School, Greenville, SC, USA.


Clinicians caring for cardiac device patients with implanted pacemakers or cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are frequently asked questions by their patients concerning electromagnetic interference (EMI) sources and the devices. EMI may be radiated or conducted and may be present in many different forms including (but not limited to) radiofrequency waves, microwaves, ionizing radiation, acoustic radiation, static and pulsed magnetic fields, and electric currents. Manufacturers have done an exemplary job of interference protection with device features such as titanium casing, signal filtering, interference rejection circuits, feedthrough capacitors, noise reversion function, and programmable parameters. Nevertheless, EMI remains a real concern and a potential danger. Many factors influence EMI including those which the patient can regulate (eg, distance from and duration of exposure) and some the patient cannot control (eg, intensity of the EMI field, signal frequency). Potential device responses are many and range from simple temporary oversensing to permanent device damage Several of the more common EMI-generating devices and their likely effects on cardiac devices are considered in the medical, home, and daily living and work environments.

Arch Mal Coeur Vaiss. 2003 Apr;96 Spec No 3:35-41.

Effects of 50 to 60 Hz and of 20 to 50 kHz magnetic fields on the operation of implanted cardiac pacemakers.

[Article in French]

Frank R, Souques M, Himbert C, Hidden-Lucet F, Petitot JC, Fontaine G, Lambrozo J, Magne I, Bailly JM.

Institut de cardiologie, service de rythmologie, hôpital La Pitié-La Salpêtrière, 52-56, bd Vincent Auriol, 75013 Paris.


The effect of 50 Hz and 60 Hz (frequencies of current distribution) and 20 kHz to 50 kHz (frequencies of induction cooktop) magnetic interference on implanted pacemakers have been assessed with the present generation of device technology. Sixty patients implanted in 1998 and 1999 with dual chamber pacemakers from 9 different manufacturers were monitored with telemetry while passing through, and standing between a system of two coils. They generated a 50 Hz or a 60 Hz magnetic field at 50 microT. Then, patients used a cooktop at different power. The recordings were made with the standard setting of “medically correct” sensing parameters chosen for the patients. Then pacemakers were reprogrammed to the unipolar mode, with the highest atrial (A) and ventricular (V) sensitivity that did not induce muscular inhibition while moving. Between each exposure (50 Hz, 60 Hz or 20 kHz to 50 kHz), the pacemaker programmation was controlled. At the end of the tests, pacemakers will be reprogrammed with the standard setting. The medical observer being blind to the existence or not of the magnetic field. No pacemaker was influenced by the vicinity of the magnetic field at medically correct settings. At unipolar high sensitivity, no inhibition nor reprogramming was observed. Transient reversion to interference mode was observed in 6 cases, 3 transient acceleration due to atrial detection of the interference, and one T wave detection by the ventricular lead. All were observed with the 60 Hz, and only 3 with the 50 Hz magnetic field. One device (Biotronik) shifted out of its special program (hysteresis research) during the tests with the induction cooktop, but it maintained its standard program, and the event could not be repeated despite further testing. CONCLUSION: Actual pacemakers do not present any electromagnetic interference with 50 Hz and 60 Hz or induction cooktop frequency working. They are insensitive with medically correct settings. Unusual high sensitivity leads only to noise reversion mode, or transient ventricular tracking.

Arch Mal Coeur Vaiss. 2003 Apr;96 Spec No 3:30-4.

The interference of electronic implants in low frequency electromagnetic fields.

Silny J.

Research Center for Bioelectromagnetic Interaction (femu), University Hospital of Aachen University, Pauwelsstrasse 20, 52074 Aachen, Germany.


Electronic implants such as cardiac pacemakers or nerve stimulators can be impaired in different ways by amplitude-modulated and even continuous electric or magnetic fields of strong field intensities. For the implant bearer, possible consequences of a temporary electromagnetic interference may range from a harmless impairment of his well-being to a perilous predicament. Electromagnetic interferences in all types of implants cannot be covered here due to their various locations in the body and their different sensing systems. Therefore, this presentation focuses exemplarily on the most frequently used implant, the cardiac pacemaker. In case of an electromagnetic interference the cardiac pacemaker reacts by switching to inhibition mode or to fast asynchronous pacing. At a higher disturbance voltage on the input of the pacemaker, a regular asynchronous pacing is likely to arise. In particular, the first-named interference could be highly dangerous for the pacemaker patient. The interference threshold of cardiac pacemakers depends in a complex way on a number of different factors such as: electromagnetic immunity and adjustment of the pacemaker, the composition of the applied low-frequency fields (only electric or magnetic fields or combinations of both), their frequencies and modulations, the type of pacemaker system (bipolar, unipolar) and its location in the body, as well as the body size and orientation in the field, and last but not least, certain physiological conditions of the patient (e.g. inhalation, exhalation). In extensive laboratory studies we have investigated the interference mechanisms in more than 100 cardiac pacemakers (older types as well as current models) and the resulting worst-case conditions for pacemaker patients in low-frequency electric and magnetic fields. The verification of these results in different practical everyday-life situations, e.g. in the fields of high-voltage overhead lines or those of electronic article surveillance systems is currently in progress. In case of the vertically-oriented electric 50 Hz fields preliminary results show that per 1 kV/m unimpaired electrical field strength (rms) an interference voltage of about 400 microVpp as worst-case could occur at the input of a unipolar ventricularly controlled, left-pectorally implanted cardiac pacemaker. Thus, already a field strength above ca. 5 kV/m could cause an interference with an implanted pacemaker. The magnetic fields induces an electric disturbance voltage at the input of the pacemaker. The body and the pacemaker system compose several induction loops, whose induced voltages rates add or subtract. The effective area of one representing inductive loop ranges from 100 to 221 cm2. For the unfavourable left-pectorally implantated and atrially-controlled pacemaker with a low interference threshold, the interference threshold ranges between 552 and 16 microT (rms) for magnetic fields at frequencies between 10 and 250 Hz. On this basis the occurrence of interferences with implanted pacemakers is possible in everyday-life situations. But experiments demonstrate a low probability of interference of cardiac pacemakers in practical situations. This apparent contradiction can be explained by a very small band of inhibition in most pacemakers and, in comparison with the worst-case, deviating conditions.

Pacing Clin Electrophysiol. 2001 Apr;24(4 Pt 1):465-8.

Incidence of electromagnetic interference in implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

Kolb C, Zrenner B, Schmitt C.

Deutsches Herzzentrum München and 1. Med. Klinik, Klinikum rechts, Isar der Technischen Universität München, München, Germany.


Electromagnetic interference (EMI) with ICDs can lead to temporary inhibition of the device or to inappropriate delivery of antitachycardia pacing and shocks. The incidence of interactions between electronic devices and the current generation of ICDs is not known. In a retrospective study of 341 patients (665 patient-years) who underwent a regular follow-up every 3 months, five episodes of EMI were detected in four different patients. The risk for receiving inappropriate shocks due to EMI is < 1% per year and patient. In conclusion, although inappropriate delivery of shocks by ICDs due to EMI rarely occurs, patient information should emphasize the avoidance of situations of possible interference. Further efforts concerning lead technology and detection algorithms are necessary to minimize the risk of EMI.

Pacing Clin Electrophysiol. 1991 Dec;14(12):2114-22.

The influence of elevated 50 Hz electric and magnetic fields on implanted cardiac pacemakers: the role of the lead configuration and programming of the sensitivity.

Toivonen L, Valjus J, Hongisto M, Metso R.

First Department of Medicine, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Finland.


The influence of the electromagnetic interference (EMI) on performance of 15 implanted cardiac pacemakers (12 generator models) was tested during exposure at a high voltage substation. All patients had an adequate spontaneous heart rate during the study. Tests were performed in the ventricular inhibited mode with unipolar sensing in all pacemakers and repeated with bipolar sensing in four pacemakers. The sensitivity was set to a regular, functionally proper level and then to the highest available level. Exposure was done to moderate (1.2-1.7 kV/m) and strong (7.0-8.0 kV/m) electric fields, which correspond to the immediate vicinity of 110 and 400 kV power lines, respectively. In moderate electric fields the output was inhibited in one pacemaker at regular sensitivity (1.7-3.0 mV) and in five pacemakers at the highest sensitivity (0.5-1.25 mV). In strong electric fields the output was inhibited in five pacemakers at regular sensitivity and several pacemakers converted to noise reversion mode at the highest sensitivity. In bipolar mode only one of four pacemakers at high sensitivity (0.5-1.0 mV) was inhibited in the strongest electric field, whereas all four did so in the unipolar mode. One pacemaker with unipolar sensitivity at 0.5 mV was interfered by 63 microT magnetic field. The results confirm that the programmed sensitivity level and the lead configuration markedly influence pacemakers’ vulnerability to EMI. Bipolar sensing mode is rather safe in the presence of EMI, which is encountered in public environments. The programmable features of today’s pacemakers permit individualized, less stringent safety measures to avoid electromagnetic hazards.

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