DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Cellular Phones Can Cause Pacemaker Problems

ROCHESTER, MINN-Wireless hand-held (cellular) telephones are becoming more and more popular as their technology improves.

Heart pacemakers operate, with a timer, to stimulate the heart muscle to contract by regularly sending a discharge from a battery pack through a wire with a lead placed into the heart.

There have been reports of potential interference between cellular telephones and heart pacemakers. These reports prompted a multicenter study of this issue.

Dr. David L. Hayes and associates published their study of 980 patients with heart pacemakers using five different types of cellular phones. This report (New England Journal of Medicine 1997;336:1473-9) suggests that cellular phones can interfere with the function of heart pacemakers.

Of important note, the pacemaker interference by the cellular phones was only found to be significant when the phones were held over the pacemakers-not when placed in the normal listening position over the ear.

Further, of the two basic types of telephones, the researchers found that analogue telephones were significantly safer (less pacemaker interference) than digital phones.

It is recommended that patients with heart pacemakers NOT place cellular telephones over the pacemaker area. If a patient is carrying a cellular phone, it should not be placed in a pocket near the pacemaker while it is turned "on."

The accompanying editorial recommends that pacemaker patients hold cellular phones away from the body when dialing and hold the phone for listening against the ear that is farthest from the pacemaker. If patients develop symptoms during cellular phone usage, they should be examined by their cardiologist and considered for pacemaker monitoring while using the phone.


Last Editorial Review: 12/31/1997