Can Electric Cars & Hybrids Interfere With Pacemakers?

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The first internal pacemakers were developed in the 1950s. Heart patients were naturally skeptical: How does it run? Will the battery die? Can I be electrocuted?

Just two decades later, the devices had become commonplace. The Six-Million Dollar Man went prime time, and humanity was making its first wobbly steps into the field of bionics when a problem suddenly arose: reports of pacemaker malfunctions were being reported in patients who stood near microwave ovens.

Thankfully, those days are gone. The improved shielding of both pacemakers and microwaves has eliminated any potential for the two devices to interact. 

But we're not out of the woods yet. Even today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration remains concerned about interactions between cell phones and pacemakers. So it's only natural for patients to wonder about other potential sources of electromagnetic interference.

Some of those sources could be the increasing number of hybrid and electric cars we drive. 

Thankfully, Mayo Clinic is working to nip this problem in the bud with a study of pacemakers and hybrid vehicles. There, researchers monitored 30 pacemaker recipients as they rode in a 2012 Toyota Prius.

Study participants rotated positions within the vehicle, moving from the driver's seat, to the passenger's seat, to both sides of the rear. Patients were also tested while standing in front of and behind the vehicle.  

When all was said and done, researchers determined that the Prius "did not generate clinically relevant amounts of [electromagnetic interference] and that the car is safe for patients with implanted devices...". However, lead researchers Luis R. Scott, M.D. and Fernando Tondato, M.D. both agree that further research is necessary to verify the study's results. Presumably subsequent studies will include a broader range of vehicles, including some electric cars. 

You can watch Dr. Scott discuss the study's findings in the video clip embedded above.

[via Treehugger]

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Comments (3)
  1. In the LEAF (and I'd venture to say in all other EVs too), the electromagnetic field is actually less noticeable and better shielded than in regular cars where spark plugs and alternators generate very strong fields any time the engine is running. The field only spikes up in the rear seat when the car is charging (2011-12 models). I wonder how moving the charger to the front in 2013s will affect the front seats during charging. I hope someone at mynissanleaf.com can measure it again.

  2. I couldn't measure anything coming out of the PIP, Volt or Leaf in my little fun project.

    However, Cell phone signal is actually pretty strong. I will be more worried about cell phone signal than EVs...

  3. I have both a Hybrid (Volt) and a Pacemaker (Medtronics ICD) and I haven't had any problems yet.

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