Devices that may Interfere with Pacemakers

Updated:Dec 21,2016

Learn more about devices that may interfere with a pacemaker:

Anti-theft systems (also called electronic article surveillance or EAS): Interactions with EAS systems are unlikely to cause clinically significant symptoms in most patients. However, the American Heart Association recommends that you:

  • Be aware that EAS systems may be hidden or camouflaged in entrances and exits in many businesses.
  • Don't stay near the EAS system longer than is necessary.
  • Don't lean on or stand close to an anti-theaft system.

Metal detectors for security: Interactions with metal detectors are unlikely to cause clinically significant symptoms in most patients. However, the American Heart Association recommends that you:

  • Don't stay near the metal detector longer than is necessary.
  • Don't lean on or stand against the system.
  • If scanning with a hand-held metal detector is necessary, tell the security personnel that you have a pacemaker. Ask them not to hold the metal detector near the device any longer than is absolutely necessary. Or ask for an alternative form of personal search.

Cell phones: Currently, phones available in the United States (less than 3 watts) don't appear to damage pulse generators or affect how the pacemaker works.

  • Technology is rapidly changing as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) makes new frequencies available.
  • Newer cellphones using these new frequencies might make pacemakers less reliable.
  • A group of cellphone companies is studying that possibility.
  • Bluetooth® headsets do not appear to interfere with pacemakers.

MP3 player headphones: Most contain a magnetic substance and research has documented that placing the headphones too close to the pacemaker caused interference.

  • Keep your headphones at least 1.2 inches (3 cm) away from your pacemaker.
  • Never rest your head on the chest of a person with pacemaker while you're wearing headphones.
  • Both the earbud and clip-on types of headphones can cause interference.
  • Do not place headphones in a breast pocket or drape them over your chest. 

Extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL): a noninvasive treatment that uses hydraulic shocks to dissolve kidney stones.

  • This procedure may be done safely in most pacemaker patients, with some reprogramming of the pacing.
  • You'll need careful follow-up after the procedure and for several months to be sure your pacemaker is working properly.
  • ESWL should be avoided in patients with certain kinds of pacemakers implanted in the abdomen.
  • Discuss your specific case with your doctor before and after the treatment.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): a noninvasive diagnostic tool that uses a powerful magnet to produce images of internal organs and functions.

  • Metal objects are attracted to the magnet and are normally not allowed near MRI machines.
  • The magnet can interrupt the pacing and inhibit the output of pacemakers.
  • Check with your doctor about whether or not you should undergo an MRI, and any risks and benefits of having this test with a pacemaker.

Power-generating equipment, arc welding equipment and powerful magnets: Such as found in some medical devices, heavy equipment or motors can inhibit pulse generators.

  • If you work closely with or near such equipment, be aware of the risk that your pacemakers may not work properly in those conditions.
  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions about being around such equipment.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA): A medical procedure that uses radio waves to manage a wide variety of arrhythmias.

  • RFA is usually performed before the pacemaker is implanted.
  • Studies have shown that most permanent pacemakers aren't adversely affected by radio frequencies during catheter ablation.
  • However, if RFA is performed with a pacemaker, a variety of changes in your pacemaker are possible during and after the treatment.
  • Your doctor should carefully evaluate your pacing system after the procedure.

Short-wave or microwave diathermy: A medical procedure that uses high-frequency, high-intensity signals for physical therapy. These may bypass your pacemaker's noise protection and interfere with or permanently damage the pulse generator.

Therapeutic radiation (such as for cancer treatment): May damage the pacemaker's circuits.

  • The degree of damage is unpredictable and may vary with different systems.
  • The risk is significant and builds up as the radiation dose increases.
  • The American Heart Association recommends that the pacemaker be shielded as much as possible and moved if it lies directly in the radiation field.
  • If you depend on your pacemaker for normal heart pacing, your electrocardiogram (ECG) should be monitored during the treatment, and your pulse generator should be tested often after and between radiation sessions.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): A medical device used to relieve acute or chronic pain with electrodes placed on the skin and connected to a pulse generator.

  • Most studies have shown that TENS rarely inhibits bipolar pacing.
  • It may sometimes briefly inhibit unipolar pacing. This can be treated by reprogramming the pulse generator 

This content was last reviewed September 2016.


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