Radio frequency energy (RF) from cell phones can potentially interact with some electronic medical devices. This type of interference is called electromagnetic interference (EMI).
Precautions for Pacemaker Wearers
Based on current research, cell phones do not seem to pose a significant health problem for pacemaker wearers. Nevertheless, people with pacemakers may want to take some simple precautions to be sure that their cell phones don't cause a problem, including:
- Hold the phone to the ear opposite the side of the body where the pacemaker is implanted to add some extra distance between the pacemaker and the phone.
- Avoid placing a turned-on phone next to the pacemaker implant. For example, don’t carry the phone in a shirt or jacket pocket directly over the pacemaker.
In the unlikely event that EMI occurs, it could affect a pacemaker in one of three ways:
- Stopping the pacemaker from delivering the stimulating pulses that regulate the heart's rhythm.
- Causing the pacemaker to deliver the pulses irregularly.
- Causing the pacemaker to ignore the heart's own rhythm and deliver pulses at a fixed rate.
Testing and Evaluating Potential Cell Phone Interference
Because of concerns that EMI could potentially affect some electronic medical devices, the FDA took a lead role in developing detailed test methodologies to measure EMI of implanted cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators from cell phones. This test method is now part of an international standard (ISO 14117) and is utilized for testing and evaluation of potential EMI from cell phones minimizing risk to patients worldwide.
The FDA continues to monitor the use of cell phones for possible interactions with other electronic medical devices and will develop new assessment methods to help ensure minimal to no impact on the function of these devices by EMI.