In vitro assessment of tissue heating near metallic medical implants by exposure to pulsed radio frequency diathermy

Phys Med Biol. 2003 Sep 7;48(17):2919-28. doi: 10.1088/0031-9155/48/17/312.


A patient with bilateral implanted neurostimulators suffered significant brain tissue damage, and subsequently died, following diathermy treatment to hasten recovery from teeth extraction. Subsequent MRI examinations showed acute deterioration of the tissue near the deep brain stimulator (DBS) lead's electrodes which was attributed to excessive tissue heating induced by the diathermy treatment. Though not published in the open literature, a second incident was reported for a patient with implanted neurostimulators for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. During a diathermy treatment for severe kyphosis, the patient had a sudden change in mental status and neurological deficits. The diathermy was implicated in causing damage to the patient's brain tissue. To investigate if diathermy induced excessive heating was possible with other types of implantable lead systems, or metallic implants in general, we conducted a series of in vitro laboratory tests. We obtained a diathermy unit and also assembled a controllable laboratory exposure system. Specific absorption rate (SAR) measurements were performed using fibre optic thermometry in proximity to the implants to determine the rate of temperature rise using typical diathermy treatment power levels. Comparisons were made of the SAR measurements for a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) lead, a pacemaker lead and three types of bone prosthesis (screws, rods and a plate). Findings indicate that temperature changes of 2.54 and 4.88 degrees C s(-1) with corresponding SAR values of 9129 and 17,563 W kg(-1) near the SCS and pacemaker electrodes are significantly higher than those found in the proximity of the other metallic implants which ranged from 0.04 to 0.69 degrees C s(-1) (129 to 2471 W kg(-1)). Since the DBS leads that were implanted in the reported human incidents have one-half the electrode surface area of the tested SCS lead, these results imply that tissue heating at rates at least equal to or up to twice as much as those reported here for the SCS lead could occur for the DBS leads.

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature / radiation effects*
  • Diathermy*
  • Electric Wiring
  • Energy Transfer / physiology*
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Metals / radiation effects*
  • Pacemaker, Artificial
  • Prostheses and Implants*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation Protection / methods
  • Radio Waves*
  • Radiometry / methods*
  • Relative Biological Effectiveness


  • Metals