In recent years, wearable devices such as smartwatches and rings, as well as smart scales, have become ubiquitous – “must-haves” for the health-conscious to self-monitor heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs. Despite the obvious benefits, certain fitness and wellness trackers could also pose serious risks to people with implantable electronic heart devices (CIEDs) such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices, reports a new published study in Heart Rhythm, the official journal of the Heart Rhythm Society, the Cardiac Electrophysiology Society and the Pediatric & Congenital Electrophysiology Society, published by Elsevier.
Researchers evaluated the operation of CRT devices from three leading manufacturers while applying electrical current used during bioimpedance measurement. Bioimpedance measurement is a technology that delivers a very small, imperceptible current (measured in microamperes) into the body. The electrical current flows through the body, and the response is measured by the sensor to determine the person’s body composition (i.e., skeletal muscle mass or fat mass), stress level, or vital signs such as respiratory rate.
“The bioimpedance measurement produced electrical interference that exceeded guidelines accepted by the Food and Drug Administration and interfered with the proper functioning of the CIED,” explained lead researcher Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, PhD, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA. He emphasized that the results, obtained through careful simulations and laboratory tests, do not pose an immediate or definite risk to patients wearing the trackers, but noted that the different levels emitted could lead to interruptions in pacing or unnecessary shocks to the heart. dr Sanchez added, “Our findings warrant future clinical trials evaluating patients with CIEDs and wearables.”
The interaction between general electronic devices and, more recently, smartphones with CIEDs has been studied in the scientific community in recent years. Almost all, if not all, implantable cardiac devices already warn patients about potential magnetic field interference with a variety of electronic devices—for example, carrying a cell phone in a breast pocket near a pacemaker. The rise of wearable health technologies has accelerated in recent years, blurring the line between medical and consumer devices. Until this study, objective evaluation to ensure safety has not kept pace with the exciting new devices.
Our research is the first to examine devices using bioimpedance sensing technology and discover potential interference issues with CIEDs such as CRT devices. We need to test a broader cohort of devices and patients with those devices. A joint investigation between researchers and industry would be helpful to ensure patient safety.”
dr Benjamin Sanchez Terrones, PhD, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Ha, GB., et al. (2023) Safety Assessment of Smart Scales, Smart Watches, and Smart Rings Using Bioimpedance Technology Shows Evidence of Potential Interference in Implantable Electronic Cardiac Devices. heart rhythm doi.org/10.1016/j.hrthm.2022.11.026.