generation of digital mobile phones can interfere with many types of heart
pacemakers, claims a new study in the Institute of Physics journal Physics
in Medicine and Biology. Pacemakers can confuse mobile-phone signals with
the heart's own electrical signals, causing a malfunction.
"This phenomenon could pose a critical problem for people wearing
pacemakers because digital mobile phones use extremely low-frequency
signals, which can be mistaken for a normal heartbeat," says biomedical
engineer and lead investigator Giovanni Calcagnini of the Italian
Institute of Health in Rome. "If a pacemaker detects a normal heartbeat,
it will not function properly and could be very dangerous for the wearer."
Newer pacemakers fitted with a ceramic filter, however, are immune from
the problem, say the authors of the paper. They recommend that all
manufacturers use these filters.
"There is a body of literature about pacemakers and cell phones , and I
had thought that there was shielding also in the newer phones,"
cardiologist and pacemaker expert Richard Page told NewsFactor. Page, who
heads the division of cardiology at University of Washington School of
Medicine in Seattle, added that he does not have a patient with that
Electromagnetic interference between mobile phones and cardiac pacemakers
has caused concern among physicians since 1994, when reports first
surfaced alleging that mobile phones could cause the life-saving implants
to malfunction. Early research suggested pacemaker wearers keep a safe
distance from mobile phones.
The original studies did not, however, look at the cause of the
interference, so it was not known which pacemaker patients were most at
risk, Calcagnini explained. Some electrical components of pacemakers act
like aerials, picking up outside radio signals and transmitting them to
the pacemaker's sensitive electronic circuits, according to Calcagnini's
"While the problem is relatively rare, it can cause major problems if it
occurs, such as lack of pacing the heart," Dr. Page told NewsFactor.
Cell Signal Meets Ceramic Shield
A research team that included Calcagnini and colleagues at the Center for
Devices and Radiological Health of the Food and Drug Administration tested
three versions of the same pacemaker model. A conventional filter, used to
block high-frequency radio signals, equipped the first type of pacemaker.
The second used newer ceramic filters connected directly to its internal
circuits. The third pacemaker contained both devices.
While exposing the pacemakers to radio signals from mobile phones --
including the GSM (global system for mobile communications) phones used
throughout Europe -- Calcagnini and his team monitored each pacemaker's
output signal, which helps control the patient's heartbeat.
Radio-frequency signals from GSM phones passed straight through the
standard filter. The pacemaker equipped with the ceramic filter, however,
did not respond to the stray signals.
"Most manufacturers have started to equip their new models with ceramic
filters," Calcagnini told NewsFactor. "We recommend all new models be
equipped with these filters, since it is difficult to change cell-phone
technology to avoid them producing low-frequency radio frequency signals."
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