Safer Airport Screenings for Pacemaker Patients

Pacemaker patients can safely by screened by handheld airport metal detectors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For patients with pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators to control potentially dangerous heart arrhythmias, stepping through airport security could cause anxiety. That's because they weren't sure if it would be safe for them.

Previous reports had suggested that hand-held metal detectors used for airport security screening may generate electromagnetic fields that could be dangerous because it could interfere with the functioning of pacemakers or implantable defibrillators.

"If you have a heart device ask for a pat down at the airport."

U.S. Transportation Security Administration officials recommend a pat down for travelers with the devices instead of a scan with a metal detector because of concerns over interference.

Dr. Clemens Jilek, a doctor from the German Heart Center in Germany, and his colleagues found that is likely not the case. There's no reason to believe the simple security screening would be dangerous to patients with implantable defibrillators or pacemakers.

Researchers used hand-held metal detectors to screen 388 patients with pacemakers or implantable defibrillators between September 2009 and December 2010 at two European medical centers. Of those, 209 had pacemakers and the remainder had implantable defibrillators.

Investigators found that after prolonged exposure to the metal detectors there was no change in device function, including pacing or sensing abnormalities. There was no device reprogramming observed in the patients either, leading them to conclude that hand-held metal detectors do not affect the function of the devices, and that the security screening is "probably safe for patients with pacemakers and ICDs."

Dr. Jilek has called for additional research to verify the findings.

The clinical study was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 1, 2011
Last Updated:
November 2, 2011