Objectives: This study was designed to evaluate possible interactions between digital mobile telephones and implanted pacemakers.
Background: Electromagnetic fields may interfere with normal pacemaker function. Development of bipolar sensing leads and modern noise filtering techniques have lessened this problem. However, it remains unclear whether these features also protect from high frequency noise arising from digital cellular phones.
Methods: In 39 patients with an implanted pacemaker (14 dual-chamber [DDD], 8 atrial-synchronized ventricular-inhibited [VDD(R)] and 17 ventricular-inhibited [VVI(R)] pacemakers), four mobile phones with different levels of power output (2 and 8 W) were tested in the standby, dialing and operating mode. During continuous electrocardiographic monitoring, 672 tests were performed in each mode with the phones positioned over the pulse generator, the atrial and the ventricular electrode tip. The tests were carried out at different sensitivity settings and, where possible, in the unipolar and bipolar pacing modes as well.
Results: In 7 (18%) of 39 patients, a reproducible interference was induced during 26 (3.9%) of 672 tests with the operating phones in close proximity (<10 cm) to the pacemaker. In 22 dual-chamber (14 DDD, 8 VDD) pacemakers, atrial triggering occurred in 7 (2.8%) of 248 and ventricular inhibition in 5 (2.8%) of 176 tests. In 17 VVI(R) systems, pacemaker inhibition was induced in 14 (5.6%) of 248 tests. Interference was more likely to occur at higher power output of the phone and at maximal sensitivity of the pacemakers (maximal vs. nominal sensitivity, 6% vs. 1.8% positive test results, p = 0.009). When the bipolar and unipolar pacing modes were compared in the same patients, ventricular inhibition was induced only in the unipolar mode (12.5% positive test results, p = 0.0003).
Conclusion: Digital mobile phones in close proximity to implanted pacemakers may cause intermittent pacemaker dysfunction with inappropriate ventricular tracking and potentially dangerous pacemaker inhibition.