The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a startling warning last week: strong magnets commonly used in cellphones and smartwatches may interfere with pacemakers and other implanted medical devices.
Their research suggested that high-strength magnets may cause some devices to switch to “magnet-mode,” a setting that is in place so they can be safely operated during a medical procedure like an x-ray or MRI scan.
Although they maintain that the risk is relatively low, they issued the following recommendations for people treating heart rhythm disorders with medically implanted devices like pacemakers or heart defibrillators.
1. Keep cellphones and smartwatches six inches away from implanted devices, particularly defibrillators. In other words, don’t carry them in breast pockets.
2. Check to ensure the device is functional if you’re using a home monitoring system. Ask your doctor about the magnets, your risk, and inform them if you are experiencing any symptoms.
3. If your device is equipped with a safe or magnetic mode, high-strength magnets may stop working or change how they function. For example, a heart defibrillator may not detect a rapid heart rate, or it may switch the mode of a pacemaker.
If the device is affected by a magnet that has compromised its functionality, potential symptoms can be quite severe. They can range from dizziness, loss of consciousness, or even death.
Even though they suggested there is a relatively low risk of experiencing trouble from these magnets, it is certainly something to be conscious of.
Smart devices like phones and watches are increasingly used as ways to monitor and track health, and not just for young people. Thankfully, the rules are relatively easy to remember. Avoid keeping them around your neck or in your breast pockets and you should be just fine.