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Are Hand-Held Metal Detectors Used in Airports Safe for People With Pacemakers and Defibrillators? FREE

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The full report is titled “Safety of Screening Procedures With Hand-Held Metal Detectors Among Patients With Implanted Cardiac Rhythm Devices. A Cross-sectional Analysis.” It is in the 1 November 2011 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 155, pages 587-592). The authors are C. Jilek, S. Tzeis, H. Vrazic, V. Semmler, G. Andrikopoulos, T. Reents, S. Fichtner, S. Ammar, I. Rassias, G. Theodorakis, S. Weber, G. Hessling, I. Deisenhofer, and C. Kolb.

Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(9):I-32. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-155-9-201111010-00001
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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

Pacemakers and implantable defibrillators are 2 common examples of cardiac rhythm devices. Cardiac rhythm devices use small bursts of electricity to help people's hearts beat regularly. In rare cases, nearby electronic devices, such as cell phones and MP3 players, can cause cardiac rhythm devices to malfunction.

The technologies used for security screening in airports have also been reported to cause rhythm device malfunction. Those reports involve older screening technologies and older pacemakers, however, and there have been no recent reports of rhythm device malfunction among travelers undergoing airport security screening. At least 1 study has shown that walking through metal detector gates is safe. Nonetheless, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration continues to advise airport travelers with cardiac rhythm devices to request a pat-down inspection rather than walk through metal detector gates or undergo screening with a hand-held metal detector.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

To see whether the hand-held metal detectors used in airports cause cardiac rhythm devices to malfunction.

Who was studied?

388 people who were visiting their doctors for a routine check-up of their cardiac rhythm devices.

How was the study done?

The researchers purchased the 2 hand-held metal detectors that are most commonly used for airport security screening. They checked that each person's rhythm device was functioning normally. They then swiped the metal detector over the rhythm device for at least 30 seconds, a time much longer than that required for normal security screening. The researchers then performed testing to detect any abnormalities in device function that the metal detector screening might have caused.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers did not detect any malfunction of the cardiac rhythm devices during or after exposure to the hand-held metal detectors.

What were the limitations of the study?

In most cases, the researchers were able to test only 1 or 2 of each kind of device. They tested only some of all available devices. They also used only 2 kinds of metal detectors, and they used them in examination rooms in the hospital, not in airports (where many security screening procedures take place at the same time). The findings therefore do not necessarily apply to all devices and metal detectors in real-world security settings.

What are the implications of the study?

Security screening by using hand-held metal detectors is probably safe for people with pacemakers and implantable defibrillators. Those findings are reassuring, but they have to be considered preliminary until they are confirmed with more kinds of metal detectors and all cardiac rhythm devices in real-world screening settings.





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