JUN 08, 2016 12:55 PM PDT

Electronic Surveillance Systems Disrupt Pacemakers

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
Have you ever had someone waiting for you at the entrance to a store while you finish shopping? Does this person have a pacemaker or other cardiac device? In hindsight, they could have been in danger due to the impact of electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems installed in the majority of stores to prevent theft.

Image credit: www.easitag.com.au

A new study from the European Society of Cardiology conducted an in-depth study to identify exactly which types of electronic anti-theft systems are potentially harmful to people with cardiac implantable electronic devices (CIEDs) and to what degree they are at risk.
Two common CIEDs are pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). These devices provide support to the heart muscle, either regulating pacing or providing shocks to prevent potentially life-threatening arrhythmias. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2012 found that almost three million Americans received permanent pacemakers between 1993 and 2009.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a formal recommendation in 2000 for people with CIEDs to “avoid lingering around or leaning against systems that may affect their implanted electronic medical devices.” Prolonged exposure to EAS systems could cause pacemakers to drop beats or lose them entirely and cause ICDs to deliver unwarranted shocks. During the past 16 years since the FDA recommendation, EAS technology has advanced to the point where they often go unnoticed by patrons, so even if they did concern themselves with the FDA warning, they might often be unaware of a nearby EAS system.
“That advice is hard to follow when systems are invisible,” said co-author of the European Society of Cardiology study, Dr. Rod Gimbel from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. “To make matters worse, advertising [at storefronts] draws patients closer to the [hidden EAS systems].”
The study, recently presented at CARDIOSTIM – EHRA EUROPACE 2016 by Robert Stevenson, PhD, from Greatbatch Medical in California, was conducted at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, focusing on measuring and analyzing the safety of modern EAS systems with modern CIEDs.
The researchers examined up to five CIED manufacturers per EAS system: pedestals, door frames/in wall, and under floor. They compiled their results into four categories
  1. No interference
  2. Prolonged pacemaker inhibition
  3. Inappropriate shocks
  4. Other inappropriate tachycardia therapy
To duplicate the environment pacemakers and ICDs are developed to function in the human body tissue, the researchers kept the devices in a specific type of saline solution. They simulated the action of people with CIEDs standing near EAS systems, walking past them, leaning against them, and facing them. The distance between the CIEDs in saline solution and the floor was controlled for the average height of a CIED patient.
The results from the study showed increased interference with CIED function when the devices were a close distance from pedestal systems and when the devices “lingered” near the systems. They did not measure any interference with CIED function with wall systems or under floor systems when they were flat or less than a 30-degree angle from vertical. However, the researchers believe that the interference danger increases when an under floor system reach a 90-degree angle, potentially even a 45- degree angle.
Facing or having your back to an EAS pedestal or a toddler with a pacemaker crawling over a subfloor system is of particular concern,” Stevenson said.
With over 800,000 pedestal EAS systems installed worldwide, according to Stevenson, people with CIEDs should definitely be concerned and aware of their surroundings when in an area potentially containing EAS systems.  

Sources: European Society of Cardiology, American College of Cardiology, U.S. FDA
About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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