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iPods and Pacemakers Don't Mix 152

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the listen-to-your-heart dept.
fermion writes "The Register reports a study that indicates that iPods and pacemakers do not get along. While there do not appear to be any long term effects, iPods disrupt the operation of the pacemaker. It is noted that such effects have not previously been observed as iPods do seem to be popular with the pacemaker-wearing population."
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iPods and Pacemakers Don't Mix

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  • Frist Post (Score:1, Funny)

    by rts008 (812749)
    I've already patented the iPacemaker add-on for the iPod!! w00t!
  • Ipod only? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yakumo.unr (833476) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @09:41PM (#19077739) Homepage
    Despite them being by far the most popular portable digital player, why would this focus purely on the ipod? how can they possibly be doing this, and it not be a problem for other players?
    • The mean age of the study was 77. I don't imagine many people at that age use mp3 players very often. You would think that they'd use other devices, but the iPod has such a large market share over anything else. Now that they know the iPod can cause problems for pacemakers, the next step would be to test similar devices. Why waste your time with 50 devices when you aren't sure if there will be a problem with one? The iPod is clearly the logical choice to start a study.

      You would think that after doing a st

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Maybe the iPod a large market share compared to any other single player, but I see a lot more people with portable CD players (discman) than with iPods. They aren't all specifically 1 brand or model, but they are a lot more prominent.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by johnpaul191 (240105)
          as of last year i read somewhere that in the USA portable CD players (discmans) still outsold digital music players something like 5:1. not sure where they are going, i feel like i see digital players of some flavor everywhere i look.
          • they are cheaper by a huge margin.
            I'm sure that's got a lot to do with it.
            you don't need a PC to use a diskman, that too must count for many sales.
            -nB
          • I just saw someone with a Discman/portable CD player of some sort a day or two ago, and it occurred to me how few of them I see now. It really does seem like the vast majority of what I see these days is iPods and similar. I would say that maybe it's because I hang around nerdy tech people, except I usually see people listening to things like that while I'm riding the bus or subway, which have pretty much all kinds of people on them.
          • by BootNinja (743040)
            They're probably being purchased in and shipped to Nigeria with stolen credit cards.
          • by hackstraw (262471)
            as of last year i read somewhere that in the USA portable CD players (discmans) still outsold digital music players something like 5:1. not sure where they are going, i feel like i see digital players of some flavor everywhere i look.

            Yeah, and the most popular bras are not the sexy ones worn by Victoria Secret model hotties either. They are Wal-mart specials that could double as a hammock.

          • you can get a cheap portable cd player that also plays CD-R, CD-RW with mp3's, maybe even wma. Like $20 or something. Great way to cheaply add mp3 to a car, eh?

            Also I seriously doubt a cd/mp3 would ever have DRM. (unless it was a sony...)

            Walmart has (or used to) have them.
      • Re:Ipod only? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Misch (158807) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:33PM (#19078197) Homepage
        Jay Thaker, a student at Okemos High School in Michigan, co-authored the the report with a friend of his father, Dr. Krit Jongnarangsin, an assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Michigan.

        High school student & assistant medical professor doing the study. Probably not a lot of money to go around and get lots of devices there. Probably used what they had on hand.
        • by magicchex (898936)
          Kid goes to my high school and professor goes to my University. Crazy world... my brother will be graduating from Okemos in a couple weeks while I should have graduated from Michigan a couple weeks ago, but am a couple years behind. Great high school by the way, but they spent way too much money building it and now the district is hemorrhaging money,
      • I hear Steve Ballmer's uncle participates ;)
    • Easy... (Score:5, Funny)

      by adona1 (1078711) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @09:59PM (#19077937)
      They did try to do the same study with the Zune, but were unable to find anyone to participate
      • by rts008 (812749)
        Is that what they mean by 'Plays For Sure'?

        Imagine the BSOD with you're pacemaker!

        Spectator1: Hey, that dude is turning blue and flopping around on the ground!

        Spectator2: Look at the grip he has on his Zune and his chest!

        Spectator1: Yeah, BSOD Plays For Sure, let's grab a cup of coffee before we have to get back.

        Spectator2: Cool, entertainment AND coffee on our break....it's great to be alive!
    • It's because the iPod has DRM.

      (not only that; you should see how long it takes to copy a 17 megabyte file from an ipod to a pacemaker!)
    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:12PM (#19078035)

      how can they possibly be doing this, and it not be a problem for other players?

      Well, for one thing, the touch-sensitive scroll-wheel is somewhat (though certainly not completely) unique. They use capacitive touch sensing. They utilize a low-voltage, low current AC voltage to measure the change in capacitance when you move your finger over the sensor. The googles say 102kHz is common.

      My "second generation" nano produces a high-pitched noise whenever it's on- it's noticeable if you have it within 2 feet or so of your head. I'm pretty sure it is the inverter that generates the AC current, but if it's 120kHz, that shouldn't be possible, unless there's a resonant frequency in the audible range.

      Maybe the sensor just happens to use a frequency that confuses pacemakers. Now that Apple is aware of the problem, they might do some testing and change it on future iPods.

      • by hazem (472289) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:50PM (#19078335) Journal
        My "second generation" nano produces a high-pitched noise whenever it's on- it's noticeable if you have it within 2 feet or so of your head. I'm pretty sure it is the inverter that generates the AC current, but if it's 120kHz, that shouldn't be possible, unless there's a resonant frequency in the audible range.

        That's a known problem and you can get a warranty replacement. I bought one and as soon as I turned it on I notice the sound. Googled and found many people complained about it. I called the mac store and they said bring it back and they gave me a replacement with no hassles.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Agripa (139780)
        The capacitance sensor electronics run at such a low power level that I am certain that is not the cause of the noise you are hearing. The main switching power supply is a much more likely candidate.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by smellsofbikes (890263)
          I just walked down the hall and asked the guy who designed about 70% of the switchers for the various ipods, and he said they run at "about 600 KHz" fwiw. I bet it's not them.
          • by Agripa (139780)
            Ask him about subharmonic oscillation in current mode switching regulators. This occurs when the duty cycle is above 50% and slope compensation is not used. It is usually not detrimental to regulator performance but can be made audible by the magnetics and occasionally the ceramic capacitors through the piezoelectric effect.

            Pulse skipping, constant on time, and constant off time switching regulators can also have a similar problem with noise generation but I have only heard them make a hiss and not a whin
            • Zowie, you know your stuff. Slope compensation is used. I don't know the specifics of the circuit, and I'm not sure he does either: he said that was possible but he thought it was unlikely.
              (I've had to design stuff to measure whether our slope compensation works correctly when new silicon comes back, which isn't so easy to do.)
      • by jb.hl.com (782137)
        Dunno if it's related, but whenever my mobile phone goes off and it's next to my iPod, the volume goes absolutely haywire (which on in-ear headphones, as you can imagine, isn't fun).

        Makes long train journeys into a long game of eardrum russian roulette, I swear.
    • Re:Ipod only? (Score:5, Informative)

      by stephanruby (542433) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:23PM (#19078133)
      Here is a list of at least 30 common devices [guidant.com] that would probably interfere with a pacemaker. This is nothing new. All pacemaker patients are told about this when they first get one. The iPod angle was just a way to get the story in the news.
      • Re:Ipod only? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bay43270 (267213) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @11:38PM (#19078641) Homepage
        Patients aren't told as much as you would think. When my infant son got his, we were given a list that basically included anything wireless. It wasn't until we asked around a little before we got more reasonable information.

        With that in mind, this article taught me something new. I had always assumed interference was related to the wireless nature of pacemakers. My son's is regularly re-programmed via a wireless device set anywhere near his chest. I had assumed if there was a problem it would be related to whatever memory was being programmed. The ipod article suggests the interference is just an interruption between the device and its leads. They suggest the interference won't cause lasting problems once the patient is separated from the interfering device. That's not something that was in the 50 page booklet that they provided with the pacemaker.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by marklar1 (670468)
          The patient brochure you were given is designed to educate new "owners" of the dangers. No, they don't go into great detail as to why things are warned, they just warn there. The majority of our patients can't/won't/wouldn't be able to follow complex explanations of behaviors. They would also be less likely to get through ANY of the manuals and information if it looked like the technical manuals for one of these devices.

          The explosion of Cell phone devices has caused manufacturers to pay greater attention
    • by creimer (824291) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:28PM (#19078175) Homepage
      Get real! The idea of someone with a pacemaker dying with a Zune in their hand is laughable. If fact, such a person would more likely die from embrassment than a pacemaker failure.
      • by vishbar (862440)

        Get real! The idea of someone with a pacemaker dying with a Zune in their hand is laughable. If fact, such a person would more likely die from embrassment than a pacemaker failure.

        Well don't stop there! The idea of anyone, pacemaker or no, dying with a Zune in their hand is laughable! Actually....well, the idea of anyone with a Zune in their hand, living or dead, is laughable in itself :-).

    • by GWBasic (900357)

      Despite them being by far the most popular portable digital player, why would this focus purely on the ipod? how can they possibly be doing this, and it not be a problem for other players?

      Remember, this "study" was run by a 17-year-old. We know very little; my guess is that it was a high school science project where the student visited his grandparents at a retirement home.

  • The interference usually just caused the equipment to misread the heart's pacing, but one case caused the pacemaker to stop working entirely. none of the symptoms are life-threatening, and the pacemakers returned to normal when the iPods were shut off.

    I wouldn't be so sure about that, what concerns me is that it can cause the pacemaker to misread the heart rhythm, the actual heart rhythm can be disrupted if the pacemaker doesn't work right- and if it happens during driving or something like that it xan b

    • by iminplaya (723125)
      ...and if it happens during driving or something like that it xan be life threatening.

      Everybody who uses their iPod while driving is life threatening.
  • No way in heck (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This study is prima facie complete BS. iPods emit less RF than pretty much anything else in the environment around you. They have to meet FCC Part 15 and other international standards, just like any other device.

    If someone's pacemaker is acting up, it had better not be an iPod causing it, or that person had better move into a Faraday cage.

    File this under "OMG cell phones kill bees!!!11!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fred Ferrigno (122319)
      First off, the various standards only set a maximum limit for interference. It is practically impossible to eliminate it entire and the iPod certainly emits its fair share. Secondly, since the heart's electrical signals do not generate very much current, the pacemaker's sensing leads are necessarily very sensitive. They are so sensitive that they will pick up interference from nearby EMI sources. It's a known problem with the fundamental concept of a pacemaker. The manufacturers do their best to protect aga
  • "It is noted that such effects have not previously been observed as iPods do seem to be popular with the pacemaker-wearing population." Is this a typo?
    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Yes.

      The reason why it this hasn't been caught before?
      "Most pacemaker patients are not iPod users," Jongnarangsin said. ®
    • I was wondering the same thing. I'm guessing it was meant to say "do not".

      Though, it could be emphasis that the issue is more prevalent with newer generation iPods, and noting that despite their popularity the effects hadn't been observed before. I don't think it'd be note-worthy to say "We didn't notice because people with pacemakers just never used iPods."
    • by gsslay (807818)
      It wouldn't be slashdot without some error somewhere.

      This one completely negates everything that is written previously, so must be in line for some kind of prize. But I guess a study that's sloppy science deserves a sloppy write-up.
  • This is actually quite startling. What exactly inside of the ipod is giving off interference that effects the pacemaker? Is it the hard disk? If so, there is most likely quite a few more devices that could cause disruption.

    Clearly this is a covert terrorist attempt by toshiba against bush!!!! Toshiba KNEW bush would buy an ipod, and thats why they included the secret ray gun device emmitter in their hardrives!!

    -toshiba killed my best friend
    --I am an american
    ---I am an american
    ----I am an american
  • iRobot (Score:3, Funny)

    by ghoul (157158) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @09:52PM (#19077853)
    In further investigation it was found this effect is present only in the new fifth generation iPods when the red light is on. Apple has denied plans for world domination by sending signals to iPods to control peoples minds. "Ridiculous", said an Apple spokesman "Our brain control waves are on a totally different wavelenth than the heart stopping killer waves" Inestigators have also come across reports of a single iPod mini going around turning off the waves
  • Returns (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joebert (946227) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @09:52PM (#19077859) Homepage
    And why are you returning this product today sir ? Has it quit functioning properly ? Would you like to trade it in for a new one ?

    Nah, it killed grandpa, I want my money back.
  • by blankmange (571591) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @09:55PM (#19077895)
    so this is a valid study? a 17-year-old high school student tested 100 pacemaker-wearing subjects with only iPods (and no other MP3 devices)..... yeah...
  • Is the electromagnetic noise coming from the hard drive? Wouldn't many other devices, besides just iPods, cause the same kinds of problems?

    I can understand microwaves and particle accelerators :) causing problems with folks who have pacemakers. It would appear they should be concerned aout much more. I would think manufacturers of pacemakers have some responsibility to make their devices handle the everydy environment they work in. Do cell phones break pace makers? Those who have pacemakers just aren't able
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I work for a pacemaker company and have personally seen the vast amount of engineering and V&V that goes into a new pacemaker. Pacemakers aren't just slapped together by a 4 or 5 guys in a weekend, and the FDA says "Yeah that looks about right." They are built over the course of years, by teams of dozens and dozens of hardware and software engineers with a mind numbing amount of V&V. Then the FDA goes through their literally thousands of test results with a fine tooth comb.

      That said, I think the
  • by msauve (701917) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @09:56PM (#19077907)
    iPods obviously meet FCC regulations for RF emissions.

    The real concern is why pacemakers are made so they are susceptible to such interference. What happens when a user is exposed to an intentional RF radiator [wikipedia.org], which would be expected to put out much more power, and consequently cause problems at much greater distance?

    It should be obvious that more study must be done - at what frequencies are pacemakers most affected? Might an 802.11 device, for example, be even more disruptive?
    • It's the rare-earth magnet in the harddrive. The easiest solution would be to get a nano.
      • stated in the article, or any reference to this issue that I can find. Can you provide a cite to back that up?

        If it were true, the the title would be even more misleading, since it's not all iPods, but is all harddrives.

        Of even more concern would be the danger posed by something as simple as refrigerator magnets. In a simple experiment, I could easily pick up paperclips with refrigerator magnets, but was completely unable to do so with a hard drive based iPod.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by stephanruby (542433)
          stated in the article, or any reference to this issue that I can find. Can you provide a cite to back that up? If it were true, the the title would be even more misleading, since it's not all iPods, but is all harddrives.

          The article is misleading, yes, but it is not the magnet that's doing the interference. In 1995 cell phones [fda.gov] were also found to interfere with pacemakers at the same range. This is not news, there are a number of devices [guidant.com] that can interfere with pacemakers -- all patients with pacemakers a
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by neapolitan (1100101)
      802.x frequencies generally don't cause any problem if they stay in the frequency range, but at extremely close proximity any RF source would give significant power to frequencies outside this range and could contribute to noise seen by the device...

      In fact, Guidant released a defibrillator/pacer awhile back that programmed wirelessly, I believe in the 802.11 spectrum.

      http://www.guidant.com/news/500/web_release/nr_000 570.shtml [guidant.com]

      This opens up a whole realm of bad possibilities, to your ambitious neighbor kid
      • I'm not sure about Guidant, but I used to work for one of their competitors and the hardware support has been there for a while. Of course, there were all sorts of concerns about interference and even security as you mentioned, so it was never enabled in production units. It's still used extensively in house because it's much faster than traditional programming.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fred Ferrigno (122319)

      The real concern is why pacemakers are made so they are susceptible to such interference.

      The heart's electrical signals are very weak, so the pacemaker's sensing leads have to be incredibly sensitive in order to pick them up. Unfortunately, any ungrounded wire is an antenna, so that hyper sensitivity means that they pick up noise, even from sources that meet FCC regulations. Since the exposed lead has to be in physical contact with the heart at some point, there's no 100% effective way to eliminate the noise. It's a known problem with the very concept of a pacemaker.

  • Pure Sensationlism (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:15PM (#19078051)
    I'm an engineer who works for a pacemaker company, and from what I've understood on this hype, the iPod is just disrupting communication with the cardiologist's programming station. "The equipment to misread the heart's pacing" is misunderstood as the pacemaker missing the heart's pace, but I believe it much more likely to be the programming station missing the real time EKG stream to the programming station. With the exception of that lone device, I bet the rest of the pacemakers paced and performed as properly as they could with a noisy communication channel. The communication protocols for the devices I've worked on are often wrapped with many parity checks and CRCs. And yes, modern pacemakers are even run through lengthy tests of randomly hitting them with a multitude of communication errors to make sure these situations are covered.

    So in short, this is just a poorly written and misleading article that is going to feed off the public's misunderstanding of technology.
    • and respond to an AC.

      Assuming you actually are who you claim, how is this communications done? I would assume that it's done with inductive coupling. If so, what is the interference mechanism?
    • I think The Register has been accused of hosting a significant anti-Apple bias several times in the past. I really don't read the site so I don't really know. If they were out for page hits, then they can easily pull a Dvorak and publish sensationalist stories when they find a low-hit day.
      • El Reg. aren't anti-Apple. It's far broader than a bias. They're anti-everything-new-and-trendy-and-cool. That's what makes it such an entertaining read, restoring balance to an 'OMG that's neato' universe.
  • by davidsyes (765062) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:15PM (#19078059) Homepage Journal
    heart-felt music....

    (Captcha: "leaking")
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:20PM (#19078099)
    I'm 31 and I've got a pacemaker (implanted when I was 17) and I have not experienced any problems when using my 5th generation iPod. I don't keep the iPod on top of my pacemaker, either, but I can't recall ever having a problem when using the iPod. I use lots of wireless devices as well (blackberry pearl, MS wireless keyboard, bluetooth headset, etc) and don't experience any problems. Again, as the manufacturers of the devices and the pacemakers recommend, I usually keep the devices a few inches from the pacer (and most often use the phone on the ear opposite the pacer implant location).
    The study should include information about the pacer models and manufacture dates...perhaps these were very old units.
  • iPace! It keeps your heart a'goin, and pumps music directy to your brain, and is updated via 802.11n/Bluetooth/EDGE, and is compatible to synch with your iPhone!
  • by neapolitan (1100101) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @10:54PM (#19078365)
    I am a cardiologist (a lot of electrophysiologists are interested in devices, electronics, and are quite computer-savvy!)

    msuave: Yes, a pacemaker or defibrillator is essentially inside a faraday cage already. They are generally titanium or steel encased, and designed to resist most radiation fields that are encountered in everyday life. However, faraday cages are not perfect, and the pacemaker has to have leads come out to thread into the heart. Just as you can use your cellphone inside a metal plane (also a faraday cage), some degree of radiation will be seen by the pacemaker electronics. In general, these devices are programmed by placing a wand over the device which essentially communicates by RF to the internal device -- if it was a perfect cage, it couldn't even be reprogrammed except by physically accessing the device (e.g. minor surgery.)

    AC: Agreed regarding the sensationalism. Our practice tells EVERY pacemaker and defib recipient a list of things they should and shouldn't do. We counsel patients to hold their cellphone in their RIGHT hand and only crunch it between their right shoulder and ear, as almost all pacemakers are implanted on the left side. In general microwaves are ok, and patients are given a letter and card for the airport, where they can be wanded. Quite clearly, if somebody puts another RF emitting device RIGHT ON TOP of the implant, it could cause some interference. No, this is not unique to ipods. Again, if you actually talk to grandpa, I'm sure he knows this, especially if he was implanted by us. :) This "research" is quite ridiculous.

    Finally, agreed regarding the description of the findings -- if it is just interrupting transmission of data to the programmer, this is a lot less dangerous than scrambling the internal signal seen by the pacemaker. The pacemakers are designed to recognize noise, again for the expected interference as noted above, and can handle this using many filters (e.g. something at 60 Hz is probably NOT coming from your body.)

    ----------
    Vetran slashdotter, ID #101.

    Wait, UIDs are not in binary?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I saw you were already modded +5. so I will comment instead of modding you up.

      I am an engineer, and share your suspicion this is groundless news sensationalism.

      The IPod is NOT a transmitting device. Yes, it does have a processor. And WILL emit *some* EMI. But not that much. If it did, we would have already heard scores of complaints from radio and television owners.

      My own observations ( from spectral analysis of existing problems ) is that an ordinary switcher flourescent tube ballast or CRT-based T

      • by olman (127310)
        I am an engineer, and share your suspicion this is groundless news sensationalism.

        The IPod is NOT a transmitting device. Yes, it does have a processor. And WILL emit *some* EMI. But not that much. If it did, we would have already heard scores of complaints from radio and television owners.


        I am an electronics engineer and make sure our devices are EMI-compliant by the circuit design and by casing.

        To interfere with radio you need to hit specific frequency bands around ~100MHz. For TV, yes, I can easily imagi
      • For what it's worth, microwave radiation leads to cataracts [wikipedia.org] -- opacity of the lens, not the vitreous humor. Glaucoma is a different disease, where movement of liquid from inside the eye through the pupil to the outside of the eye is blocked, often from debris clogging the fine network of holes, so pressure accumulates within the eye, leading to nerve damage and blindness.

        Also: I've found most lamp dimmers to be reasonably quiet, EMI-wise, especially the newer electronic ones that switch on partway through
  • This may be the selling point that Steve Balmer was looking for to finally get his uncle to own a zune. [slashdot.org]

    mr c

  • lol (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday May 10, 2007 @11:09PM (#19078449)
    While there do not appear to be any long term effects, iPods disrupt the operation of the pacemaker.

    I don't understand this sentence. Oh wait, this is slashdot.
  • Time to drag out the old tinfoil vest.
  • by Detritus (11846)
    Many devices are susceptible to EMI. I recently saw this while testing a hand-held UHF two-way radio. When I pressed the push-to-talk button in high-power mode (7 W output), it killed a computer that was about 6 feet away from the radio. The computer just made a funny noise and turned itself off.
  • I have been wearing my iPod flash for a necklace for some time - and and old tech buddie said that can't be good for your heart. I scoffed. After reading this article, I'm giving this a second thought. Anyone know just how much EMF or whatnot radiates off of a iPod?
  • Now if my Dad asks for an iPod for Xmas i got the perfect excuse not to get him one! :D
  • Are pacemakers part 15 devices? If so they have to accept the interference.

    RF shielding is a big deal. Just look at the nice Faraday cages used to enclosed MRI scanners. It has to be RF quiet because that is the actual imaging part of the system. The magnets just make things jump to higher energy levels. When they fall down they emit a signal detected with an RF scanner.

    I would imagine there should be some form of RF/EM shielding on something so critical as a pacemaker.
  • The study only covered 100 patients. Many other devices may also interfere with pacemakers. More study is needed to determine overall effect.
  • and I'll show you a man with an AM/FM pacemaker.

    Or, in this case, a MP3-playing pacemaker.
  • No wonder so much attention has been paid to George Bush's iPod - whenever Dick Cheney starts giving him lip in the oval office, he can just walk over nonchalantly, stand next to Dick, wait for him to pass out, and then continue the meeting.

    I wonder if Bush has Sting's "Nothing Like the Sun" album on his iPod?

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