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Pacemaker patients could be at risk from wearing a smartwatch, after scientists found that electric signals from fitness trackers can cause deadly interference in heart devices.

Fitness gadgets work by sending a small, imperceptible current of electricity into the body, but researchers say it can disrupt the electrical pulses that keep heart implants functioning.

Experts from the University of Utah warn that the current could trick pacemakers into thinking the heart is beating correctly when it needs help, or give an unneeded painful electric shock to people with internal defibrillators.

Although the electrical current cannot jump though the air between people, it could flow from one person to another if they are touching, the researchers also warned.

It suggests that people could be at risk from partners, children or other family members if they share close contact.

Is this a “could happen but unlikely” sorta thing? Or a here’s the row of coffins already filled as a result of it thing?

24 thoughts on “Rilly?”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    Somebody was probably watching one of those YouTube videos where a load of people hold hands and the first one touches and electric fence and the last one gets the electric shock and started wondering and came up with: if a series of unlikely and improbable events take place X could be the result, type of hypothesising for the deliberator case.

  2. I’ve had a pacemaker for years. I don’t put my phone in my shirt pocket and I avoid metal detector gates and Tesla coils, but otherwise I don’t worry too much. I have no problem with friends wearing smart watches or FitBits, the voltages and currents are way too small. If it would affect me, they’d be jumping every time the thing went off.

    I suspect the researchers avoid pavement cracks so there’s no risk their mothers become paraplegic.

  3. I believe this would be highly unlikely for watches classed as medical devices. The risk assessments required by FDA /EU regulations (which tend to be adopted globally) for such devices would require manufacturers to consider such a possibility and require appropriate risk mitigation measures to be implemented prior to approval. Likewise, pacemaker manufacturers would also be required to assess the risk of electromagnetic interference including smart watches / fitness trackers. A catch all boiler plate warning label wouldn’t be sufficient here.
    Now, what about cheap generic non-medical device fitness trackers? There’s certainly less regulatory control there, but the pacemaker manufacturers would still be expected to risk assess it, and not just for current models, post-market surveillance assessment would need to take this into consideration. The place to check would be public records of post-market assessment via the FDA / EU device regulatory authority. They would track the pacemakers and medical device watches.
    Regarding the Utah report you mention, this will likely be being inspected by the medical device companies as part of their market surveillance activities, because their Notified Bodies and regulatory agencies will expect an assessment.

  4. Most smartwatches and fitness bands don’t have electrically conductive sensors. Of the few that do you may find an ECG type function that is input only. The other one is skin conductance. Here we are talking about a tiny tiny electrical current going through a centimeter or so of skin on the wearers wrist. The current flow by the pacemaker is going to be minute. No doubt it could be measured with fantastically sensitive equipment, but this is testament to our growing ability to detect things and filter them out from all of teh other currents that are induced in out bodies.

  5. “It suggests that people could be at risk from partners, children or other family members if they share close contact.”

    What with this and monkeypox, that gay sauna is getting risky.

  6. “The researchers showed the interference in lab conditions, and have called for testing in patients.”

    In other words “Hey, if we can raise enough scary headlines Apple might pay us for a few years of ‘research'”

  7. “Pacemaker patients could be at risk from X, after scientists found that electric signals from X can cause deadly interference in heart devices”

    Where X might be;

    WiFi, DECT phones, trolley busses, microwave ovens, overhead power lines, black helicopters or the Berryman Logical Image Technique?

  8. I did a translation on a film about some German guy who had a prosthetic hand that had little motors in it to allow him to grab objects.
    A short circuit meant that when he was at a railway station with overhead lines and stood at the edge of the platform, the hand would start spinning around.
    It was fixed with a bit of tape.

  9. Prepared to be corrected, but don’t most smartwatches use green LEDs/lasers to measure pulse, and MEMS sensors for movement?

    It’s the fitness kit in the gym, or the Polaris monitor the Navy make me wear for a RNFT, that’s got the electrical sensors to measure your heart rate, not the wrist-worn gizzits…

  10. What AtC says.

    Sis-in-Law has one of those newfangled “smart” pacemaker/AED devices, and those are notorious for being sensitive to mobile devices, especially the ones using NFC/wireless charging and having that switched on.
    *and near*
    But as long as you’re not holding the phone right over the spot where the device is buried, it shouldn’t matter as the things aren’t that sensitive.

    A smartwatch seeking a lost connection while you’re doing the “clutching your pearl necklace” pose? Possibly, not impossible at least. But the signals from those things are far weaker than a phone.
    If I understood sis-in-law correctly, hers is even trained/told to ignore anything that isn’t one of the specific manufacturer devices meant to interface with it.
    The only thing that might possibly interfere with hers are the Connection Lost/Seeking Attention double-pulses we’ve all come to know and “love” at point-blank range.

    But otherwise? Maybe the early models, but then again the people having those should have been instructed about these things.

  11. My wife has just bought me an electric beard-trimmer. I googled around and found advice that I should keep it at least six inches away from my pacemaker. So at least it trims the right side of my beard nicely.

    Maybe there’s the germ of an idea – a good way for men to warn others that they have a pacemaker is to sport a wild beard on the left side of the face and be clean-shaven on the right.

  12. “We have done this work in simulations and benchtop testing following Food and Drug Administration accepted guidelines, and these gadgets interfere with the correct functioning of the CIEDs we tested. These results call for future clinical studies evaluating the translation of our findings to patients wearing CIEDs and using these wearable devices.”

    So not actually go as far as anything attached to a person.

  13. I’ve seen people wearing these watches. How far up your own arse do you have to be? (Although looking at some of the wearers, considerably) You walk up 5 flights of stairs or run for a bus your heart & breathing rates rise. You need a watch to tell you that?

  14. “x could be at risk from..”

    Well, yes. Of course they could be at risk.

    But the statement is vacuous. It provides no context. Neither of the probability of being at risk, nor the probability of the risk doing any harm.
    For it to be useful, there have to be real numbers.

    At best, it’s the sort of observation which says” Hmmm – might be worth looking at that”. When you’ve looked at it, you could then declare “95% of folk with pacemakers constructed before 1935 have a severe risk of having the pacemaker’s operation inhibited for a period exceeding 35 minutes if a wrist-mounted electronic item meeting US/UK/EU standard XXXy is worn during periods of extreme rainfall, outside, during lightning storms when a lightning strike within 5 m occurs”

    Or some such.


  15. I’ve seen people wearing these watches.

    I’ve been wearing a smartwatch since a Pebble in 2014 or so. The main use case for me is email or text notifications from people I care about, quick access to weather forecasts, and a handy silent metronome. The fitness tracking is not relevant to me.

    How far up your own arse do you have to be?

    That’s a question only someone else can answer…

  16. I’m old enough to remember when they warned you your mobile phone could crash aeroplanes. Best switch it off, eh.

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