EMF Health-effects Research

Interference of cellular phones with implanted permanent pacemakers

Chen WH, Lau CP, Leung SK, Ho DS, Lee IS

Clin Cardiol 19(11):881-886, 1996

BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESIS: Occasional reports have suggested that cellular phones may interfere with permanent pacemakers. Our investigation sought to determine systematically the effects of commercially available cellular phones on the performances of different pacing modes and sensing lead configurations of permanent implanted pacemakers.

METHODS: We conducted the study in 29 patients implanted with single- or dual-chamber bipolar rate-adaptive permanent pacemakers (a total of nine different models and six different sensors: minute ventilation, activity sensing using either accelerometer or piezoelectric crystal, QT and oxygen saturation sensing) from four different manufacturers.

Three different cellular phones with analog or digital coding with maximum power from 0.6 to 2 W were used to assess the effect of pacemaker interference. Each cellular phone was positioned at (1) above the pacemaker pocket, (2) the ear level ipsilateral to the pacemaker pocket, and (3) the contralateral ear level. Surface electrocardiograms, intracardiac electrograms, and marker channels were recorded where possible during the following maneuvers at each position: (1) calls made by a stationary phone to cellular phone, and (2) calls made from the cellular phone to a stationary phone. A total of eight different pacing modes [DDD(R), VDD(R), AAI(R) and VVI(R)] in both unipolar and bipolar sensing configurations was tested. RESULTS: Interference was demonstrated during cellular phone operation in 74 of 2,418 (3.1%) episodes in eight patients.

Three types of interference were observed: inhibition of pacing output, rapid ventricular tracking in DDD(R) or VDD(R) mode, and asynchronous pacing. All were observed only with the cellular phone positioned above the pacemaker pocket. Interference occurred prior to and after the termination of the ringing tone of the cellular phone in 57% of cases. Cellular phones with either digital or analog technology could cause interference. Unipolar atrial lead was most susceptible to interference (relative frequency of interference: unipolar 1.8%, bipolar 0.4%, p < 0.05; atrial 2.9%, ventricular 1%, p < 0.05). There was no sensor-driven rate acceleration during all tests. In all patients, reprogramming of the sensitivity level successfully prevented cellular phone interference.

CONCLUSIONS: Commercially available cellular phones can cause reversible interference to implanted single- or dual-chamber permanent pacemakers. The effect is maximal with high atrial unipolar sensitivity, especially in single pass VDD(R) systems. Both digital and analog cellular phones can lead to interference. Pacemaker interference can occur prior to a warning sign (ringing tone) of the phone and may have significant implications in patient safety.

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