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Smartwatches’ Impact on Defibrillators

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A recent article in the The Wall Street Journal examines the accuracy of data gathered on atrial fibrillation by so-called smartwatches. It raises the issue that if this data is inaccurate, it might lead to unnecessary concerns for the wearer — and even inappropriate treatment. A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis looked at 18 studies that investigated the accuracy of these devices in detecting cardiovascular events. It collected data on almost a half million subjects and detailed the detection, or lack thereof, of bradyarrhythmias, tachyarrhythmias and premature ventricular contractions, as well as atrial fibrillation. The authors concluded that while overall accuracy was high, there was a need for regulation and standardization of these devices.1

It is of interest that some of the newer smartwatches and other devices that feature large magnets have been implicated in producing cardiovascular arrhythmias in patients with implanted pacemakers and defibrillators. Some cell phones have been shown to produce similar arrhythmias. One study suggests these devices should be kept at least six inches away from pacemakers and defibrillators.2 Consequently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers the following guidelines:

  • Keep consumer electronics six inches away from implanted medical devices
  • Do not carry consumer electronics in a pocket over the medical device
  • Check your device using a home monitoring system (if you have one)
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any symptoms or have questions regarding magnets in consumer electronics and implanted medical devices

Unfortunately, in many cases neither patients nor professionals are aware of the potential problems these devices can generate. This was detailed in a newspaper report involving a columnist’s wife who wore a smartwatch and subsequently experienced tachycardia severe enough to warrant several emergency room visits. Yet the treating physicians were unable to identify the genesis of the problem. A search of product information provided by the smartwatch manufacturer revealed a warning that interference with pacemakers and defibrillators could occur. The columnist informed the treating physicians, the wife got rid of the smartwatch, and the problem was solved.

THESE DEVICES SHOULD BE KEPT AT LEAST SIX INCHES AWAY FROM PACEMAKERS AND DEFIBRILLATORS

What implications could this have for dental practice? An increasing number of patients now wear smartwatches or carry cell phones and other devices that contain magnets of a strength that may be of concern — and most bring their devices into the treatment room. Clinical experience shows that many patients with defibrillators or pacemakers are unaware of the potential problems that may arise from magnetic interference.

Thus, it seems incumbent on our profession to inform these patients of the possible negative consequences of using these devices in close proximity to a pacemaker or defibrillator. Another consideration is that while smartwatches are not normally worn by oral health professionals during patient care, those who do should be aware of possible adverse reactions in individuals with implanted medical devices.

Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

 

REFERENCES

  1. Nazarian S, Lam K, Darzi A, Ashrafian H. Diagnostic accuracy of smartwatches for the detection of cardiac arrhythmia: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Med Internet Res. 2021;23:e28974.
  2. Seidman SJ, Guag J, Beard B, Arp Z. Static magnetic field measurements of smart phones and watches and applicability to triggering magnet modes in implantable pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. Heart Rhythm. 2021;18:1741–1744.

From Decisions in Dentistry. December 2022;8(12)6.

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