In Germany, more than 77,000 cardiac pacemakers and over 25,000 defibrillators are implanted each year – more and more frequently also for younger patients. A pacemaker is used for people with slow heartbeats to electrically stimulate the heart muscle. This requires a pulse generator, a battery-powered unit and an electrode that connects the pulse generator to the heart chamber. The electrode conducts electrical impulses to the heart and the signals from the heart back to the aggregate. In contrast, an implantable defibrillator (ICD) is used for people at risk of life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. Here, too, the electrodes are located in the ventricle and automatically stimulate the heart muscle, for example in ventricular fibrillation.
Normally, the devices are reliable, but in exceptional cases electromagnetic fields cause interference. Risky sources of interference are usually marked with warning symbols. However, such fields also occur with technical devices in everyday life – and their number is growing and growing. This also increases the number of electromagnetic fields and the risks associated with them.
The interference fields have very different effects: For example, the pacemaker may change mode. In serious cases, ICDs can even trigger painful shocks. However, these interferences rarely occur with implants commonly used today. Depending on the study and implant, only 0.3 to 0.7 cases could be detected per 100 patient years.
Correct Handling of Sources of Interference
Nevertheless, possible interactions often unsettle patients: about a quarter of them address the issue in follow-up examinations. Many even limit themselves unnecessarily for fear of interference in everyday life.
The German Society for Cardiology (DGK) and the German Society for Occupational and Environmental Medicine (DGAUM) have now issued recommendations for the use of many everyday devices - based on the current data available from available studies. We have summarized these for you in the following picture gallery:
Danger for Heart PatientsWhich devices interfere with the functions of pacemakers and implanted defibrillators?
Minimize Risks in Advance
The strength of the electromagnetic fields caused by the individual electrical devices is hard to imagine in everyday life. For this reason, it should be clarified before implantation whether the patient is exposed to strong sources of interference in his or her private or professional environment. In order to further reduce the risk, the attending physician can contact the responsible professional association before the procedure. This makes it easier to select and adapt suitable implants.
It is best to decide with the employer on a case-by-case basis whether the patient can continue to be used at his workplace or whether the risk is too high. This applies, for example, to work with technical equipment or if the employee is exposed to strong permanent magnets. The assessment of the workplace should always be carried out in close consultation between the employer, the company doctor and the occupational safety specialist.