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.