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
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.