Wearable electronic devices such as smart watches, worn by consumers to monitor their health, could interfere with the correct working of cardiac implantable electronic devices (CIEDs), posing serious health risks to these patients.

Researchers at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, found that certain fitness trackers, such as smart watches, smart rings and smart scales, that emit an electrical current have the potential to essentially confuse CIEDs, devices including pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators, (ICDs) and cardiac resynchronization therapy devices, (CRTs), causing them to stop working.

Smart watches generated the highest level of interference; smart scales and smart rings generated lower levels.

Because of these findings, the researchers recommend against the use of these devices in this population due to potential interference.

The study was published online February 21 in Heart Rhythm.

Dr Benjamin Sanchez Terrones

Senior author Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, PhD, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, whose research focuses on bioimpedance, was prompted to study whether wearable fitness trackers could interfere with CIEDs, in part because he could find no literature on the subject.

He explained that he was talking with a colleague, co-author Benjamin A. Steinberg, MD, MHS, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, “wondering if the tiny amount of electrical current delivered through these smart devices could actually interfere with implantable electronic devices. It’s a reasonable question to ask.

“He didn’t know, either. We did a literature search but there was nothing specifically focused on watches or rings or smart scales, so that is what prompted me to start this investigation,” Sanchez Terrones told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

Bioimpedence sensing is a technology available in some of these devices that emits a very small, imperceptible current of electricity, measured in microamperes, into the body.

The electrical current flows through the body, and the response is measured by the sensor to determine a person’s level of stress, breathing rate and other vital signs, or body composition, including skeletal muscle mass or fat mass, he explained.

The researchers tested the functioning of cardiac resynchronization therapy devices from three different manufacturers (Boston Scientific, Abbott, and Medtronic) while applying electrical current used during bioimpedance sensing.

They found that during bioimpedance sensing that would come from a smart watch, smart scale, or smart ring generated a level of electrical interference that exceeded US Food and Drug Administration maximum allowable values and interfered with proper CIED functioning.

“When we attached these CRT devices to a bioimpedance device, they did not behave as they should. In addition, we found that the level of interference generated by the electrical current exceeded the maximum set by the FDA, so, essentially, the CRTs were confused,” Sanchez Terrones said.

The next step is to have clinical trials to assess the safety of these devices in humans with CIEDs, he said.

“I think our results warrant immediate action from the scientific community, but not so much for the general population. It was surprising to see that these cardiac resynchronization therapy devices would be confused, that they would stop working. That is very important to investigate further.”

Study Not Done in a Real-World Setting

Commenting on the findings for theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, Georgios Syros, MD, director of arrhythmia services at Mount Sinai Queens, New York City, pointed out that in this study, “it appears that a simulation was done in a large, wide-ranging setting from 1Hz to 100Khz looking for potential interferences.”

Dr Georgios Syros

“It was not a real-world situation, and these devices are not considered any type of potential risk,” Syros said. “The frequency at which the negative interaction occurred is not one the watch/scale/phone uses with standard operating processes, I believe, and also these devices are looking for cardiac signals within a specific range, but the study was not delivering signals in that range. The investigators may have cranked up energies looking to create an interference.”

The study was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Sanchez Terrones reports financial relationships with Haystack Diagnostics, Inc, Ioniq Sciences, Inc., B-Secur, Ltd, Myolex, Inc., ImpediMed, Inc., Texas Instruments, Inc., Happy Health, Inc., Analog Devices, Inc., and Eko Health. Steinberg reports financial relationships with AHA/PCORI, Abbott, Cardiva, Sanofi, AltaThera, InCardia, Milestone, and Pfizer. Syros reports no relevant financial relationshiips.

Heart Rhythm. Published online February 21, 2023. Full text

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