Watch: Keep iPhone 12 ‘safe distance’ from a pacemaker
Apple has warned magnets in its iPhone 12 products could “interfere with medical devices”.
Pacemakers and defibrillators implanted in a patient’s chest may “contain sensors that respond to magnets and radios when in close contact”.
To avoid “potential interactions”, Apple has urged people keep iPhone 12s and MagSafe accessories – like wireless charging docks – a “safe distance” from these medical devices.
The tech giant defines a safe distance as 15cm (5.9 inches), rising to 30cm (11.8 inches) if the electrical appliance is “wirelessly charging”.
The announcement appears to be a precautionary measure, with Apple adding “all iPhone 12 models contain more magnets than prior iPhone models”, however, “they’re not expected to pose a greater risk of magnetic interference to medical devices”.
Nevertheless, a recent study by the Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute in Detroit found holding an iPhone 12 close to the chest of someone with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) – similar to a pacemaker – caused “immediate suspension of ICD therapies”.
All iPhones contain magnets and other components that “emit electromagnetic fields”.
The iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have more of these components than previous models, however.
MagSafe accessories – like cases, wallets and mounts that attach to the back of the phone – are also made up of magnets.
The MagSafe charger and duo charger – which wirelessly boost an Apple product’s battery – also contain radios.
“These magnets and electromagnetic fields might interfere with medical devices,” warns the tech company.
“Medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and defibrillators might contain sensors that respond to magnets and radios when in close contact.”
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Pacemakers are surgically implanted into a patient’s chest, sending electrical pulses to their heart to ensure it beats regularly.
This helps ward off life-threatening conditions like a cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body.
Defibrillators deliver a high-energy electric shock to the heart of someone who is having a cardiac arrest.
ICDs specifically “send a larger electrical shock to the heart that essentially ‘reboots’ it to get it pumping again”, according to the NHS.
Apple added: “To avoid any potential interactions with these devices, keep your iPhone and MagSafe accessories a safe distance away from your device (more than 6 inches/15cm apart or more than 12 inches/30cm apart if wirelessly charging).
“But consult with your physician and your device manufacturer for specific guidelines.
“If you suspect iPhone or any MagSafe accessories are interfering with your medical device, stop using your iPhone or MagSafe accessories.”
Writing in the journal Heart Rhythm, the Henry Ford scientists called ICDs “the cornerstone therapy in the management of malignant ventricular arrythmia’s [abnormal beats originating in the lower heart chambers] for patients with high-risk cardiac conditions”.
“When an external magnet is applied to a defibrillator, high voltage shock therapy for ventricular tachycardia [an abnormally fast heart rate] and ventricular fibrillation [when the heart beats with rapid, erratic electrical impulses] is suspended,” they added.
The recent iPhone 12 series “has a circular array of magnets around a central charging coil for the phone to be compatible with ‘MagSafe’ accessories”.
The scientists were therefore concerned about a “possible device-device interaction due to presence of a strong magnetic array in the iPhone and MagSafe compatible cases”.
To learn more, they brought the iPhone “close to the ICD over the left chest area” of a patient, resulting in “immediate suspension of ICD therapies which persisted for the duration of the test”.
“This was reproduced multiple times with different positions of the phone over the pocket,” wrote the scientists.
The NHS warns anything that produces a strong electromagnetic field, like an induction hob, can interfere with a pacemaker.
Most of the electrical equipment commonly found in a home, such as hairdryers and microwaves, are not considered dangerous “as long as you use them at least 15cm (6 inches) away from your pacemaker”.
People with pacemakers should stay at least 60cm (2ft) back from an induction stove top, adds the NHS.
Signs you may be too close include dizziness and heart palpitations while using the appliance. The health service advises moving away until the symptoms ease.
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