Harvard Heart Letter

Heart beat: Sweeter note sounded for iPod users

Heart beat

Sweeter note sounded for iPod users

In the summer of 2007, reporting on a study out of Michigan State University, we cautioned musically minded readers with a pacemaker or implanted cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) to keep their iPods or other digital music players a foot or two away from the heart because they might interfere with the heart device. Newer work suggests that probably isn't necessary.

The Michigan State study surprised Dr. Gregory Webster and his colleagues at Harvard-affiliated Children's Hospital in Boston, who hadn't run across a case of an iPod interfering with a pacemaker or an ICD in any of their patients. So they tested iPods and three other digital music players on 51 of their patients with a pacemaker or ICD. Even when the music player was placed directly on the chest, it had no effect on the pacemaker or ICD, as shown by tracings on an electrocardiogram. But the music players did interfere with communication between the heart device and the tool used to program or collect information from it.

Based on their work, the researchers downplayed the possible pacemaker-ICD hazard from digital music players. But since the study was small and each test lasted for only a short time, they suggest that it makes sense to keep a digital music player at least six inches from a pacemaker or ICD, especially when the heart device is being checked. Better yet, turning off the music and putting the player away when the heart device is being tested might improve doctor-patient communication all around.

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