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Hearts & Headphones

November 25, 2008

Scientists discover why portable headphones and implantable medical devices don’t mix.


Magnets and medicine….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

More and more people are listening to portable audio players these days. But it turns out the headphones they wear could affect some implantable medical devices. Dr. William Maisel is the director of the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He and his colleagues placed small headphones on the chests of patients with implanted defibrillators and pacemakers and measured their heart rhythms.

DR. WILLIAM MAISEL (Medical Device Safety Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center):
When we placed a headphone on the defibrillator, it deactivated the defibrillator.

What’s more, pacemakers exposed to headphones started producing irregular heartbeats. He blames magnets inside the headphones for the disruptions. He says the best way to prevent this is to keep headphones at least 1.2 inches away from the chest at all times. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.