Silent iPad Health Hazard Can Kill Some Users in Their Sleep

May 10 2013 - 11:32am
iPad health hazard
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In a recent study presented at Heart Rhythm 2013 - the Heart Rhythm Society’s 34th Annual Scientific Sessions conference - researchers have discovered that the iPad 2 possesses a strong enough magnetic field that can interfere with heart pacemaker/defibrillator type implants and could potentially kill a user while they are sleeping.

According to a press release issued by the Heart Rhythm Society - a society dedicated to the field of cardiac pacing and electrophysiology - medical devices such as pacemakers, cadioverter defibrillators, etc., that monitor and control the heartbeats of patients with specific cardiac conduction myopathies, can be adversely affected by external magnetic fields. When such a device is placed near a magnetic source, electromagnetic interference can result that then causes the life-saving device to switch to a magnet mode and disrupt its normal functioning.

This study is the result of research performed by high school freshman Gianna Chien who worked with her father Dr. Walter Chien, a cardiologist, to see if the newer models of iPads embedded with magnetic connectors to be used with their Smart Cover accessory produces a strong enough magnetic field to affect cardiac rhythm devices as has been studied in previous research investigating other magnetic field-generating devices.

In the press release, Ms. Chien explains why devices such as the iPad 2 are especially worrisome:

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“iPad 2s use magnets to help secure the cover to the tablet. Since people hold tablets so close to their chest, I wanted to see if these magnets could affect cardiac device performance,” said Gianna Chien, a freshman at Lincoln High School in Stockton, Calif., who conducted the study for her science fair project. “Since tablets are becoming more common, I hope these findings will encourage patients who have or may be a candidate for implantable defibrillators to talk to their doctor about precautions if they use a tablet like the iPad 2.”

This could be especially relevant to iPad 2 users who tend to read while lying down with their device propped up on their chest, and then falling asleep with the device lying flat close to the heart.

In the study, 26 patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) were studied who held their iPad 2s both within normal reading distance and on their chest to mimic falling asleep while using the iPad 2.

What they found was that holding an iPad 2 at a normal reading distance did not result in strong enough electromagnetic interference to affect the participants’ ICDs. However, with the iPad 2 placed on the chest, up to 30% of the participants’ ICDs were triggered into magnet mode. When testing was done on 4 patients with pacemakers and one patient with a loop recorder, none showed signs of electromagnetic interference from the iPad 2.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: Heart Rhythm Society’s 34th Annual Scientific Sessions―“iPad Use Can Cause Electromagnetic Interference in Patients with Implantable Cardiac Rhythm Devices” Thursday, May 9, 2013, 9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. MDT, Exhibit Hall.

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