Harvard Heart Letter

Clash of the titans

The pacemaker and the MRI can't work together — at least not yet.

Here's a cruel irony: If you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter/defibrillator (ICD), you can't take advantage of another of the 20th century's life-saving devices, the MRI. Energy from an MRI scan can change how these devices control the heart, damage the devices, or harm the heart tissue around them.

This incompatibility is serious business, because MRIs are increasingly important in diagnosing everything from stroke and cancer to problems with the brain and spinal cord. Someday soon they may even rival the angiogram for spotting narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. By one estimate, at least half of all people with pacemakers or ICDs will need an MRI at some point.

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