Are airport scanners a risk for people with implanted heart devices?

Airport security checkpoints pose no risk for people with heart devices.
Airport security checkpoints pose no risk for people with heart devices.

It appears to be safe for people with implantable heart devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators to go through body scanners at airport security checkpoints, researchers say.

Body scanners are becoming increasingly common worldwide.

Limiting exposure

But some people are concerned that they may be a source of electromagnetic interference (EMI) that could disrupt implantable devices used to treat abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

Patients with these devices are advised to limit their exposure to certain technologies, including metal detectors, magnets and MRI scans.

The study authors surveyed 1 000 patients with pacemakers, defibrillators and other cardiac implantable electronic devices (CIEDs). Eighty percent expressed concern about passing through airport body scanners.

Researchers then analysed more than 1 000 body scans of people with CIEDs. The scans did not affect functioning of the heart devices, and no CIEDs were detected by the scanners.

Worry-free travel

The study, to be presented at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in San Francisco, is the first to examine body scanners' impact on CIEDs. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"We were surprised to learn that so many patients expressed concerns about the functionality of their devices while travelling. We wanted to help put their minds at ease by testing the potential interference body scanners could have on common devices like pacemakers and defibrillators," lead author Dr Carsten Lennerz said in a meeting news release.

Lennerz is a senior physician at the German Heart Centre in Munich.

"Our study results show that now patients can travel worry-free, knowing they can safely go through security checkpoints without the need of disclosing personal medical information," he added.

More than three million people worldwide have pacemakers, a common type of CIED, to control abnormal heart rhythms.

Image credit: iStock

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