EMF Health-effects Research

Electromagnetic interference of pacemakers by mobile phones.

Irnich W, Batz L, Muller R, Tobisch R

Pacing Clin Electrophysiol 19(10):1431-1446, 1996

The topic of interference of pacemakers by mobile phones has evoked a surprisingly strong interest, not only in pacemaker patients, but also in the public opinion. The latter is the more surprising, as in the past, the problem of interference has scarcely found the attention that it deserves in the interest of the patient.

It was the intention of our investigation to test as many pacemaker models as possible to determine whether incompatibility with mobile phones of different modes may exist, using an in vitro measuring setup.

We had access to 231 different models of 20 manufacturers. During the measurements, a pulse generator together with a suitable lead was situated in a 0.9 g/L saline solution, and the antenna of a mobile phone was positioned as close as possible. If the pulse generator was disturbed, the antenna was elevated until interference ceased. The gap in which interference occurred was defined as "maximum interference distance." All three nets existing in Germany, the C-net (450 MHz, analogue), the D-net (900 MHz, digital pulsed), and the E-net (1,800 MHz, digital pulsed) were tested in succession. Out of 231 pulse generator models, 103 pieces corresponding to 44.6% were influenced either by C- or D-net, if both results were totaled. However, this view is misleading as no patient will use C- and D-net phones simultaneously. Separated into C- or D-net interference, the result is 30.7% for C or 34.2% for D, respectively, of all models tested.

The susceptible models represent 18.6% or 27% of today's living patients, respectively. All models were resistant to the E-net. With respect to D-net phones, all pacemakers of six manufacturers proved to be unaffected. Eleven other manufacturers possessed affected and unaffected models as well. A C-net phone only prolonged up to five pacemaker periods within 10 seconds during dialing without substantial impairment to the patient. Bipolar pacemakers are as susceptible as unipolar ones.

The following advice for patients and physicians can be derived from our investigations: though 27% of all patients may have problems with D-net phones (not C- or E-net), the application should generally not be questioned. On the contrary, patients with susceptible devices should be advised that a distance of 20 cm is sufficient to guarantee integrity of the pacemaker with respect to hand held phones. Portables, on the other hand, should have a distance of about 0.5 m. Pacemaker patients really suffering from mobile phones are very rare unless the phone is just positioned in the pocket over the pulse generator. The contralateral pocket or the belt position guarantees, in 99% of all patients, undisturbed operation of the pacemaker. A risk analysis reveals that the portion of patients really suffering from mobile phones is about 1 out of 100,000. Nevertheless, it would be desirable in the future if implanting physicians would use only pacemakers with immunity against mobile phones as guaranteed by the manufacturers.

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