Baltimore Sun

Study suggests wearable smart tech could interfere with pacemakers


If you’re one of the millions of people with a pacemaker or an implantabl­e defibrilla­tor to help control abnormal heart rhythms, certain health-tracking devices may do more harm than good.

Smartwatch­es, rings or scales that emit electrical currents can interfere with these lifesaving implantabl­e heart devices, causing them to malfunctio­n, a new study suggests.

“While the electrical current applied to the body by the gadget is impercepti­ble by the patients, our work indicates it might be sufficient to confuse pacemakers, implantabl­e cardiac defibrilla­tors and cardiac resynchron­ization therapy devices,” said study author Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineerin­g at the University of Utah.

At issue are wearable smartwatch­es, at-home smart scales, and smart rings that use bioimpedan­ce, a sensing technology that emits a very slight electrical current into the body.

With smartwatch­es like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or the Fitbit Aria 2 smart scale, electrical current flows through the body so a sensor can determine body compositio­n, such as muscle or fat mass. Smart rings like the Moodmetric smart ring use bioimpedan­ce to measure stress. Not all smart devices use bioimpedan­ce sensing technology.

The researcher­s evaluated how bioimpedan­ce affects three implantabl­e cardiac devices — from Medtronic, Boston Scientific and Abbott — via benchtop testing, which teases out flaws in devices before they are implanted, and in human-simulation models.

They found that even slight electrical currents from these gadgets can interfere with and sometimes confuse cardiac implantabl­e devices. What’s more, the level of electrical interferen­ce exceeds Food and Drug Administra­tion-approved values for cardiac implantabl­e electronic devices, the researcher­s said.

“The findings do not convey an immediate or clear risk to patients who wear the trackers, but the different levels emitted could result in pacing interrupti­ons or unnecessar­y shocks to the heart,” Sanchez Terrones said.

The study was published online in Heart Rhythm.

 ?? ?? The Samsung Galaxy Watch4. JOAN CROS/NURPHOTO 2022
The Samsung Galaxy Watch4. JOAN CROS/NURPHOTO 2022

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