iPhone 12 and an ICD - Can They Coexist?

A few months back, the Heart Rhythm Society published an article demonstrating that the magnet in the iPhone 12 could disable the life-saving features of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).1 This finding and the results caused fear in many who have implanted devices and probably many more that were either considering or scheduled to have one placed. 

Possible implications

Would everyone have to choose between their implanted ICD device or their iPhone, a device, while not implanted, had become an extension of their bodies? What was this study about, and what does it mean to the millions of patients with these implanted devices who have a phone?  

A recent article, "Is Apple trying to kill us?" published by the Sudden Cardiac Arrest UK Peer Support group, set out to break down this study and explain it to heart patients.2 Interviewing ICD expert and patient Doug Rachac (also admin of the informative Facebook ICD group), the article reviewed the study and explained how and why ICDs interact with magnets.

Can the iPhone 12 disable an ICD?

The iPhone 12 has a magnet inside, and it's stronger than the ones in previous iPhone versions. The magnet functions to align the phone onto accessories, some of which provide a wireless or faster charge. It was surprising to me that many other household items contain magnets. Name tags, motors, kids toys, and convection ovens, to name a few.1

If you have an ICD implanted, manufacturers advise keeping these devices at least 6-12 inches away from your implant to prevent the ICD from being disengaged. The iPhone is no different, whether it be a 12 or a 4.

Why does the magnet disengage?

Why did the magnet do this? Doug explains that this is an intentionally designed safety feature that is a part of most ICD devices. In this case, this intentional design feature worked as planned – it disengaged when in the presence of a strong magnetic field. Once the magnet is removed, the device restores the pre-programmed protocol, aka; it goes back to normal.

ICD functioning

The ICD functions to deliver pacing or a therapeutic shock to get us out of a potentially fatal arrhythmia. However, there are cases where the ICD needs to be disabled such as a surgery or test procedure

In very rare cases, an ICD can deliver inappropriate shocks or misfires. If this happens to someone, placing a magnet over the device will disengage the device allowing the patient time to get to the hospital, ER, or their electrophysiologist to have the device checked out and reprogrammed.

Know your device

So can you still use your iPhone 12 with an ICD? The answer is yes, but as with all devices that contain a magnet, you need to use care and not place the phone over the ICD. Don't pretend your ICD is calling the mother ship.

As always, ask questions at your electrophysiologists appointments and read your device manufacturer's suggestions and warnings. Ask your team how you should respond to different situations so you are prepared should a problem arise.

Not all pacemakers and ICDs are the same. Make sure you understand what kind of implant you have, how it functions, and the protocols. The manufacturer of your device will have a list of accessories, warnings, and suggestions. Check the website to understand the capabilities and notifications with your particular device.

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