Shoplifter & Metal Detectors Effect Pacemakers, ICDs, Spinal Cord Stimulators

ROCKVILLE, MD--The Center for Devices and Radiological Health of the FDA has recently released a warning that the operation of certain medical devices, including pacemakers, implantable cardioverter/defibrillators, and spinal cord stimulators may be affected by the electromagnetic fields produced by anti-theft systems and metal detectors.

Anti-theft systems, also called electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems, are used in a wide variety of settings, including supermarkets, shopping malls, and libraries. They typically consist of one or two columns placed opposite each other near entrances and exits. Several technologies are currently on the market, but generally an electromagnetic detection field is produced between the two columns and an alarm sounds if an article with a special tag is carried between the columns.

Metal detectors for airport and facility security applications can be either portals that a person walks through, or can be hand-held "wands" that are passed over a persons body. Metal detectors use various technologies involving magnetic fields to detect the presence of metal.

In the past 10 years, the FDA has received 44 adverse event reports where EAS systems and metal detectors appeared to interfere with the routine function of implantable pacemakers, implantable cardioverter/defibrillators, and spinal cord stimulators. Similar events have also been reported in medical literature. The FDA believes that EAS systems or metal detectors can potentially interact with other electronic medical devices as well.

For pacemakers, the types of responses to the interference reported were: shifts in pacing rate; alteration to programmed pacing therapy; loss of or near loss of consciousness; and chest pain. Two patients with implantable cardioverter/defibrillators inappropriately received shocks to the heart. Seventeen patients reported overstimulation from implanted spinal-cord stimulators.