It can be argued that most fitness trackers users are very health conscious. Some are training for a race, some are professional athletes, and some just have fitness goals that they are working towards. However, there is an increasing amount of fitness tracker wearers who are tracking their physical state because of a medical condition that they have.
It can be argued that most fitness trackers users are very health conscious. Some are training for a race, some are professional athletes, and some have fitness goals that they are working towards. Yet, there is an increasing amount of fitness tracker wearers who are tracking their physical state because of a medical condition that they have.
There may be no medical condition as scary as a heart condition, which is why many are asking, “Can you wear a fitness tracker with a pacemaker?” The answer is yes. There is little to no risk of wearing a fitness tracker with a pacemaker. But, it is understandable that some people may question this; read on to find out why.
Devices With Little to No Threat
There are some devices that have made a small impact on the accuracy of a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). Here is a list of some of the devices like fitness trackers that make people wonder if fitness trackers are safe.
Cell phones are not a huge problem with pacemakers or ICDs, but the frequencies emitted from the antenna have been known to cause them to be less reliable if positioned too close to the pacemaker. According to the American Heart Association, you can still use cell phones with a pacemaker, providing you try to use them on the ear furthest away from your pacemaker.
Since many fitness trackers are smart watches and have a cell phone component with them, many people wonder if they will cause the same issue. Even though there haven’t been any reported problems with smartwatches concerning pacemakers and ICD accuracy, it is always best to exercise caution and keep your fitness tracker at least 6 inches away from your pacemaker as often as possible. If you happen to lay your hand on your chest when sleeping, you may want to consider removing your fitness tracker before bed.
Fitness trackers often will use Bluetooth to communicate with your mobile device or computer. The American Heart Association states that these “headsets don’t appear to interfere with ICDs or pacemakers.”
Although MP3 players do not pose a threat to a pacemaker or ICD, the American Heart Association says that “Most MP3 headphones contain a magnetic material that can interfere with ICDs and pacemakers. Both earbud and clip-on headphones can cause interference.” So while your fitness tracker may not cause any problems, if you are using them in conjunction with headphones, be wary of where you place your headphones. You should never put them near your chest and try to keep them at least 6 inches away from your device.
Computers and Other Electronic Devices
Most consumer products, at least in the United States, have undertaken rigorous testing to make sure that it is the safest product that it can be. And according to the American Heart Association, “In general, consumer appliances and electronics don’t affect the performance of ICDs and pacemakers. On rare occasions, some of these devices may inhibit pacemakers by a single beat. But the pacemaker’s regular signals are quickly restored.”
So what does affect a pacemaker, and why would a fitness tracker not make the list of dangerous incompatible technology? The reason why pacemakers and ICD’s react poorly when they are near certain pieces of equipment are based on the frequency that the technology runs on, the transmitting power, and antennae if there are any.
How Pacemakers Work
To understand how any piece of technology could affect your pacemaker or ICD, you have to first understand how it works. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), pacemakers are controlled by electrodes that measure your heart beats and function. If it senses that your heart is at an unhealthy range for your condition, then it will send electricity to your heart to help it pulse.
So a pacemaker is constantly “listening” for electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). EMFs are everywhere at different frequencies and different strengths, so a pacemaker has to be discerning. The Earth’s electromagnetic field is constantly producing EMFs, so they are quite literally inescapable. Though, many frequencies are so low that they aren’t read by a pacemaker and many EMFs produced by appliances and technology are transmitted at a far enough distance from your pacemaker that it doesn’t affect a pacemaker.
Someone who has a pacemaker can be in the same room with several appliances and pieces of technology that emit electromagnetic frequencies and be just fine. Even a distance as small as 6 to 12 inches can be far enough away that it doesn’t affect the device. In fact, there are some pacemakers that have a ceramic coating that will protect the device even more from foreign EMTs that might affect the function of the device.
So though pacemakers are constantly measuring electromagnetic frequencies, they are also fairly advanced and can tell the difference in most cases between the pulses from the heart and the frequencies from the surroundings.
How Fitness Trackers Work
Like most technological devices, fitness trackers do produce EMFs but they are at a very low frequency. Cell phones, which also have a low frequency have a much higher frequency than fitness trackers and are deemed safe to use as long as it is positioned at least six inches away from the pacemaker.
Most people assume that fitness trackers measure your heart rate using electricity similar to the leads that produce electricity for an EKG, however this is not how most trackers measure heart rates. Fitness trackers instead use an LED light to illuminate the capillaries under the skin and detect how fast the heart is beating based on how much like is reflected back to the sensors. This method is called photoplethysmography, and it does not affect pacemakers.
The Apple Watch
Most of the fitness trackers on the market are harmless or pose little risk to the accuracy and functions of your pacemaker or ICD, but not all. The Apple Watch states clearly in its manual that the “Apple Watch contains components and radios that emit electromagnetic fields. Apple Watch, some of the bands, the Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Cable, and the Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock contain magnets. These electromagnetic fields and magnets may interfere with medical devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators.”
So, someone who has an Apple watch and a pacemaker or ICD should exercise more caution with this product. Apple does not go into all the functions that use the electromagnetic fields, however, the series 4 watch user manual did not have quite the same wording and didn’t mention radio or electromagnetic fields, just that some components contained magnets. So perhaps the EKG feature in the newer series of Apple Watches does pose a bit more of a risk than the older series prior to the EKG function.
Someone with a pacemaker should absolutely not use the EKG function in the Apple Watch unless cleared with a doctor.
Consult A Doctor
It is difficult to be 100 percent sure of the safety of a product, especially when there are new fitness trackers on the market all the time. The technology in both pacemakers and in fitness trackers are constantly changing and improving and how they work together may change in the future.
The best course of action would be to contact your cardiologist about your particular fitness tracker you are considering buying. This does get a little tricky as your cardiologist may not stay up with the latest technology, however, he or she should be able to figure out if the fitness tracker is safe or not based on other similar products.
If you are ever unsure of a product, start with your cardiologist. If you are still unsure after given the all clear, then exercise caution and keep your device at least 6 inches away from your chest at all times. Fitness trackers can be an amazing tool to keep an eye on your health, especially if you have a heart condition.
Signs of Pacemaker Failure
In rare circumstances, your pacemaker may start to fail. This could be due to EMF interference, low battery life, or pulling on leads. If you do have a pacemaker and you are worried that it might begin to fail, then be on the lookout for these symptoms:
- Shortness of Breath
- Overly Slow or Fast Heart Rate
- Twitching Muscles in Chest or Abdomen
If you have any of those symptoms and you already have a pacemaker, you may want to consult your physician. Your doctor will be able to test your pacemaker and will know if it may be in the time window for a new battery. Of course, if you feel any of these symptoms to the point where you are concerned about your immediate health, then call 911 or have a friend take you to the emergency room.
According to the American Heart Association, there are 3 million people worldwide with a pacemaker and 600,000 pacemakers are placed yearly. These people have more cause to track their health than the average person, so it is important that fitness trackers are safe for this demographic.
Though your fitness tracker should never replace your medical consultations with a physician, it can be helpful to make sure that you are exercising in a safe range and help you keep an eye on your heart’s performance.