Study: Fitness trackers pose risk to pacemaker wearers

1 min read

A new study claims that wearable fitness trackers could interfere with medical devices such as defibrillators and pacemakers, potentially putting patient’s lives at risk.

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Utah who used computer simulations to look at how a sensing technology within some wearable devices called bioimpedance impacts cardiac devices.

Bioimpedance technology emits a tiny electric current to measure a person’s skeletal muscle mass, fat mass or level of stress. The study team found that these currents were sometimes capable of confusing cardiac implants, causing them to malfunction.

Of most concern was the effect the technology had on cardioverter defibrillators. The devices can act as pacemakers and work by shocking the heart into a regular rhythm. The researchers found that the wearables containing bioimpedance tech could confuse implanted devices into administering unnecessary and painful shocks to patients.

We have patients who depend on pacemakers to live,” said study co-author Benjamin Steinberg, a cardiac electrophysiologist. “If the pacemaker gets confused by interference, it could stop working during the duration that it is confused. If that interference is for a prolonged time, the patient could pass out or worse.”

Steinberg said more studies were needed better understand the problem. The study was published in the journal Heart Rhythm.