How electrical interference can cause pacemaker issues: Page 2 of 2

June 22, 2017 //By Keith Armstrong
During the French Revolution, beheading was the preferred method of execution. The guillotine was used for thousands of executions, meaning there was no shortage of experimental material for biologist Marie Francois Bichat. Bichat tested the electrical stimulation of hearts, which was instrumental in the development of the modern day pacemaker. Nowadays, pacemakers are commonly used to maintain a regular heart rate.

In 2010, Jeff Silberberg reported some shocking reports to the 20th Annual AAMI/FDA International Conference on Medical Device Standards and Regulation. At least one reaction to RFID tags was observed in 21 of the 22 pacemakers tested. While being exposed to each of the two 134 kHz RFID readers, a pacemaker reaction was observed for 34 of the 44 possible tests (77 per cent).

The same story is true for implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), devices used to restart the heart with electrical pulses. At least one reaction was observed in 18 of the 19 ICDs that were tested for interference from RFID. While being exposed to the two 134 kHz RFID readers an ICD reaction was observed for 27 of the 38 possible tests (71 per cent). Subsequent work has resulted in a new test method for the immunity of medical devices to RFID technologies: “Medical Electrical Equipment and System Electromagnetic Immunity Test for Exposure to Radio Frequency Identification Readers” which was published on the 29th September 2016.

In the development of everyday technology, it is vital that manufacturers consider EMI at the start of their design process to avoid interference with other electronic devices. At least today's design engineers can carry out their experiments using computerised design simulators rather than on beheaded members of the former French aristocracy.

About the author:

Keith Armstrong is worldwide electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) expert  at EMC Standards -