A new study published by cardiologists indicates that iPhone 12 may interfere with a pacemaker if the phone is located near the patient’s heart. But the study, which was designed to look at whether the magnetic field that enables the iPhone 12’s new MagSafe charging technology, had an effect on implantable defibrillators (or ICDs), raises more questions than it answers.
Apple’s latest iPhones have a circular array of magnets built into the back so they can attach to a MagSafe charging puck or compatible accessory (such as a phone case). But pacemakers have a switch that can be deactivated with an external magnetic field, and when researchers from the Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute placed an iPhone 12 over the heart of a patient with an implanted Medtronic pacemaker, the pacemaker’s operations were suspended each time.
“When the iPhone was brought near the ICD over the left chest area, ICD treatments that persisted during the test were immediately suspended,” the authors of the study, published last week in HeartRhythm, write. “This was reproduced several times with different positions on the phone over the pocket.”
As 9to5Mac notes, Apple acknowledges This is a risk: “The iPhone contains magnets, as well as components and radios that emit electromagnetic fields. These magnets and electromagnetic fields can interfere with medical equipment, such as pacemakers and defibrillators. Although all iPhone 12 models contain more magnets than previous iPhone models, they are not expected to pose a greater risk of magnetic interference with medical devices than previous iPhone models. ”
So the question remains whether the iPhone 12 is more likely to interfere with a pacemaker than other devices. The researchers pointed to studies that indicate smartphones without the kind of magnetic arrays found in the latest iPhone have a low risk of interfering with ICDs, but also noted that devices such as exercise trackers have also been found to disable a pacemaker. More research is needed, preferably to test a wider range of phones and more ICDs, to determine if the iPhone 12 is risky to use for patients with pacemakers than other phones.
Due to the way pacemakers are designed, they can be easily activated (or deactivated) by environmental sources with magnetic fields, including a Fitbit or a vape pen, according to medical news service Medical Xpress. This need not be the case, but changing it will require medical device manufacturers to redesign pacemakers.
Until more research is done, if you have a pacemaker and also own an iPhone 12 – or any device that contains magnets – you need to contact your doctor to see what distance they recommend that you keep the device away from your heart. At the very least, you may not want the phone in your pocket just above your chest.