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FDA Pacemaker Warning: Keep Cellphones, Smartwatches Away From Chest

Magnets inside phones and watches could cause implanted heart regulators to malfunction

A person looks at a smartphone and a smartwatch

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En español | The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning to Americans with pacemakers and other implanted medical devices about magnets in cellphones and smartwatches that could cause the devices to malfunction.

Though the agency stressed that the risk to patients is low, it said there is potential for the phones or watches to cause pacemakers — the small defibrillators implanted in the chest that keep the heart at a normal rhythm — to switch to “magnet mode” and thus be unable to detect and adjust irregular heartbeats. The implantable medical devices are equipped with a magnet mode to temporarily halt normal operations when exposed to a magnet to allow for tests such as MRI scans to be safely conducted. When a pacemaker stops functioning and can't, say, deliver shocks to the heart when in distress, the FDA warned, the patient could experience dizziness, lose consciousness or even die.

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There have been no reports of actual malfunctions. But the threat is real, even if minor, the FDA stressed. The agency cited a study from the Henry Ford Health System, published earlier this year, that found that magnets in Apple's iPhone 12 might be able to deactivate certain implantable cardiac devices. Apple issued its own warning, on March 29, about the risks that magnets inside its iPhone 12 models pose to people with certain medical devices, including pacemakers.

The FDA advised consumers to take the following precautions:

  • Keep consumer electronics 6 inches away from implanted medical devices.
  • Don't carry electronics in a pocket over a medical device.
  • If you have a home monitoring system linked to your pacemaker, check it.
  • Inform your doctor or other health care provider if you are experiencing irregular or quick heartbeats or if you have questions about the possible effect of consumer electronics magnets on implanted devices.