With the iPhone 12, Apple heralded its latest generation of smartphones last fall. New features like Magsafe are designed to attract customers, but could pose serious dangers for some.
The British Hearth Rythm Society (BHRS) recently examined the effects of the latest iPhone series on so-called implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD). The BHRS is an association committed to improving the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias. The Society warns of possible effects of the iPhone 12 on the devices. ICDs are used in patients with life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. Unlike a cardiac pacemaker, they do not emit permanent electrical surges, but only when a cardiac arrhythmia occurs.
New Magsafe feature causes problems
Magsafe in the iPhone 12 models are strong magnets under the back of the smartphone. These are used to attach magnetic Magsafe accessories – such as wireless chargers and wallets. A magnetic field therefore emanates from the rear of the device. This can act directly on ICDs.
Just like conventional defibrillators, ICDs emit a surge of electricity that brings the heartbeat to the right rhythm – a kind of reset.
Each ICD has a special switch that reacts to external magnetic fields. According to the report, even magnetic fields with a field strength of ten Gauss or more can impair the switch and thus the function of the entire device as long as they are too close to the chest. According to Apple, the new iPhones with Magsafe are surrounded by a magnetic field with a field strength of around 60 Gauss. For comparison: iPhones without Magsafe only have a field strength of 0.1 to 0.2 milligauss and are therefore 600,000 times weaker!
In order to better understand how an ICD works and, above all, the effect of a magnetic field on it, TECHNOLOGY BUTTON and Prof. Dr. Thomas Deneke spoken. The chief physician for rhythmology and interventional electrophysiology at the “Rhön-Klinikum Campus Bad Neustadt” explains that a sufficiently strong magnetic field interrupts the function of the defibrillator if it is close enough to the device.
Is there really a realistic risk?
The BHRS conducted several tests holding new iPhone models close to the chest of a patient with an ICD in place. “Immediate interruptions in ICD therapies were found”. From this, the BHRS deduces that there is a real danger for ICD patients.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Deneke has advised his patients against carrying smartphones and cell phones in their breast pockets for years. Since this, as mentioned, surrounds a much weaker magnetic field, he has not come across a single case of a disturbance in his years of work. With the iPhone 12 with Magsafe, however, he also sees a different quality of risk for ICD patients. A critical field strength value is therefore exceeded here. Whether placed in the breast pocket or lying on the chest, the function can be interrupted without the patient noticing. If exactly then a severe cardiac arrhythmia occurs, the ICD cannot reset the heartbeat.
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Apple rejects the dangers posed by Magsafe
The iPhone manufacturer comments on the Magsafe magnets on a support page. There it is said that the magnetic fields can interfere with devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators. In the following sentence, however, it is not assumed that “iPhone 12 models pose a greater risk of magnetic interference in medical devices than earlier iPhone models”. Finally, however, the advice to turn to your doctor. These explanations do not sound really stringent.
The BHRS investigation and our expert’s concerns should be reason enough to act quickly. Affected patients should contact their attending physician immediately.