Dangers of MRI on pacemakers

A pacemaker is a small-sized electronic device that is implanted surgically under the skin in the chest close to the heart. The device is used in order to treat arrhythmias which are abnormalities in the heart rate. Take note that these abnormalities can be due to a heart attack, genetic diseases, old age and other damages to the heart muscles. An average pacemaker has a battery life range of 5-10 years. Individuals who have pacemakers must take certain precautions in order to prevent the device from malfunctioning or getting damaged.

Symptoms of a malfunctioning pacemaker


If an individual with a pacemaker is exposed to an MRI, chest pain is one of the symptoms that will manifest.

If a pacemaker is malfunctioning, it includes the following symptoms.

  • Abdominal muscle twitching
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blackouts

If possible, the individual must be removed from the vicinity where an electromagnetic field is present once these symptoms manifest. Once the individual is at a safe distance, check the heart rate and consult a doctor. For severe cases, it would require emergency assistance right away.

Medical procedures in the hospital

Individuals who have pacemakers must be careful when underdoing medical procedures that utilizes electromagnetic energy such as MRI as well as radiation treatments. If the individual is exposed to strong magnetic fields, it can cause damage to the pacemaker, thus resulting to malfunction. Even X-rays can affect how pacemakers work.

If these medical procedures are required, surgery might be required in order to temporarily turn off the device. Procedures that are used in physical rehabilitation such as diathermy and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can also interfere with the functioning of the pacemaker.

Mobile phone use

If an individual has a pacemaker installed, it is important to take certain precautions when using mobile phones. Always remember that mobile phones must be at least six inches away from the device at all times, whether on or off. The individual must use the mobile phone using the right hand and always listen on the right ear. This is the opposite side from the pacemaker. The interference caused by mobile phones is temporary and goes away once the phone is moved away from the body.

Metal detectors

Individuals who have pacemakers are advised not to go through metal detectors whether they are free standing or hand-held since it involves the use of strong magnetic fields. On the other hand, the negative effect of metal detectors on the functionality of pacemakers has not yet been proven yet. Individuals must be issued with medical identification cards to be used in such cases.

Other sources of electromagnetic fields

There are also other sources of electromagnetic fields that put individuals at risk for exposure. It includes anti-theft devices used in stores, radio and TV transmitters, electric welders, power lines, power-generating facilities, gas-powered devices with electrical starters and satellite dishes.

Even household appliances such as microwaves can also generate current that can interfere with the function of the pacemaker. A microwave oven can still be used but the individual must not stand too close when using it.