ARRL

Pacemaker

Introduction

Radio Amateurs are quite concerned about the susceptibility of pacemakers and similar medical devices to electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields found near their stations.  This page contains many resources for evaluating possible risks, but there is no substitute for getting expert opinion from your doctor and manufacturer of your durable medical equipment.

Articles

Interference: Its Potential Effect on Pacemaker Systems

Pacemakers, Interference and Amateur radio
QST July 1994, pp. 34-36
Can hams who use pacemakers safely pursue Amateur Radio?  Yes, they generally can, but this article outlines important safety precautions they must take. Hams with pacemakers should follow any and all advice provided to them by their physician and the pacemaker manufacturer.  That is more specific than the general guidelines in the article.

Expert Opinion

  • Medtronic provides provides a patient letter with general rules, guidelines and field strengths for its products.  Additional information, including safe use of radio equipment, is provided in a document entitled Radio Frequency Transmission.  
  • St. Jude Medical has witten an FAQ page:  Can I use ham radio or a CB radio if I have a pacemaker? The answer to this FAQ is as follows:  "yes. The use of ham radio or CB radio should not damage or re program St. Jude Medical pacemakers. There is a remote possibility that the microphone or transmitter may cause a single-beat inhibition. We don't anticipate any interaction, but your physician or health care professional may elect to program the pacemaker to a less sensitive setting. If you notice interference, verify that the antenna is at least 3 feet away for portable units and 10 feet away for base stations.   All of our currently manufactured pacemakers have feed through filters that are highly effective in the mega-Hertz frequency range. The effectiveness of this filtering provides an additional level of safety for people with St. Jude Medical pacemakers. Need additional information? Contact Cardiac Rhythm Management Technical Support "
  • The American Heart Association has a page on Pacemakers. It contains the following quote:"CB radios, electric drills, electric blankets, electric shavers, ham radios, heating pads, metal detectors, microwave ovens, TV transmitters and remote control TV changers, in general, have not been shown to damage pacemaker pulse generators, change pacing rates or totally inhibit pacemaker output."
  •  Cardiology Associates has a page on Pacemakers. It contains the following two quotes: Quote 1: "Avoid being close to very strong magnets, such as MRI equipment, heavy duty electrical equipment, radio-transmitting towers, ham radios, certain surgical instruments, and cellular phones."   Quote 2: "Cellular phones, CB radios and ham radios can sometimes interfere with the function of some pacemakers. Cellular phone and CB radio antennas must remain at least six inches away from the pacemaker. Hence do not carry a cellular phone in your chest pocket, even when it is turned off. When using a cellular phone, hold it to the ear farthest from the pacemaker generator. Ham radio antenna should remain at least six feet away from the pacemaker."

Note: It is important to distinguish between electromagnetic fields generated by radio antennas and magnetic fields generated by heavy metal transformers connected to the AC powerlines.  Radio signals are easily filtered out or shielded, while 60Hz magnetic fields are much more troublesome.