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MP3 (iPod) Headphones Near ICD or Pacemaker May Cause Problems

A healthy heart beats in an efficient rhythm to pump blood and oxygen through the body. Some diseases or heart damage can cause the heart to fall into unhealthy rhythms . These can lead to heart attacks or death. Implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICD) and pacemakers are electrical devices that help a diseased or damaged heart maintain a healthy rhythm. Equipment with magnetic fields such as MRI scan , high-voltage equipment, and even a cell phone can interfere with these heart devices.

Cardiac centers in Massachusetts and Washington investigated the potential for the headphones of MP3 or iPod players to interfere with these devices. The study, published in Circulation , demonstrated that these headphones can interrupt the heart devices.

About the Study

The study observed 60 patients, 33 with ICD and 27 with pacemaker. The patients were exposed to different types of headphones and MP3 players. They were observed with an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a device programmer. When the headphones were within three centimeters (cm) (1.2 inches) of the heart device, interference occurred in 23% of patients. In device specific review:

  • 30% of patients with ICD had interference (10 total)
  • 15% of patients with pacemaker had interference (4 total)

The study also found that headphones with a magnetic field strength of at least 10 gauss where the most likely to cause problems. The interference was not found when headphones were placed three centimeters or further away from the skin surface. The MP3 players alone did not appear to have any effect.

How Does This Affect You?

Headphones can vary significantly between products, however, most of them emit some type of magnetic field. ICDs and pacemakers are vital and anything that may interfere with their function, even temporarily, should be avoided. The researchers from this study recommend that anyone with an ICD or pacemaker keep headphones at least three centimeters (1.2 inches) away from their device.

Talk to your doctor about precautions with your particular heart device. Some cases like MRI or high-voltage equipment need to be completely avoided. Personal electronic devices like cell phones may simply need to be kept a short distance away. In any case, keep regular appointments with your doctor for heart device maintenance and alert them to any problems you may be experiencing.




  • Lee S, Ransford B, Fu K, Tadayoshi K, Maisel WH. Electromagnetic interference (EMI) of implanted cardiac devices by MP3 player headphones. Circulation . 118: S_596-a.

Last reviewed December 2008 by Larissa J. Lucas, MD

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