A brand new hazard out of your iPhone?

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A new danger from your iPhone?

If you are used to keeping your phone in a shirt pocket, bra, or other chest mount, it may be time to reconsider. The iPhone 12 introduced a new quality of life feature – MagSafe – that can affect some pacemakers and other medical devices.

While the name was originally used for some type of laptop power connector, the new version is a little different. The new iPhones include magnets for quickly attaching and aligning accessories such as cases, wallets and wireless chargers.

A shock to the heart

There is renewed concern about cell phones that disable pacemakers and defibrillators, also known as CIEDs (Cardiovascular Implantable Electronic Devices). Pacemakers deliver a small electrical charge when the heart is slowed too much, and defibrillators deliver an electric shock when the heart stops beating. These devices are known to save lives, young and old. When cell phones first became popular, there were concerns that they could affect the performance of these devices.

The original cell phone security research was done in the 1990s, but cell phones have changed significantly since then. Even later research in 2019 that tested an iPhone 6 and found it wouldn't affect the CIEDs when placed directly over the devices doesn't reflect all of the wireless features that have been added to newer phones.

Doctors affected wrote a letter to the editor of Heart Rhythm. They suggest that iPhone 12 series MagSafe may interfere with the operation of CIEDs. The iPhone 12 has a series of magnets that are twice as powerful as the magnets on previous iPhones. The researchers placed the iPhone 12 over an implanted defibrillator, causing the defibrillator to pause and pause until the iPhone was removed. This happened many times the iPhone 12 was tested. This raises concerns that if the iPhone 12 is too close to the CIED, life-saving shocks will not be delivered if necessary.

While Apple recognizes that the iPhone 12 contains more magnets than previous models, it is advising that there is no greater risk of medical device malfunction.

While old cell phone concerns have proven unfounded, these physical changes to the iPhone 12 are calling that into question. After the iPhone 12 series with dual magnet power hits the market, additional research may be needed to re-evaluate the risks for even newer devices.

Other concerns

While not all phone concerns (like 5G conspiracy theories) are valid, there are some risks associated with using the phone.

Research has shown some psychological effects. Frequent phone use encourages the "delay discount," an increased need for quick or instant gratification. Checking your social media too often or with the wrong attitude can also worsen anxiety and depression.

There can also be physical risks. A study from last year showed that cell phone radiation can have an impact on male fertility. Improper and excessive use can also lead to head and neck injuries.

The silver lining

Like most tools, phones have both good and bad qualities. There are dangers, but also advantages. Phone manufacturers have been integrating health functions for years, with wellness becoming an ever greater goal for manufacturers.

Both iPhone and Android users will find a variety of features built into their phones as part of Health on iOS, Google Fit on Android, and Samsung Health on Galaxy phones. We won't go into too many details here – read this article for more information – but rest assured that there are more health functions running on your phone than you are likely to think.

Then of course there is an app for that. Dedicated apps can be used for a variety of medical purposes, from managing mental health to fighting eating disorders, detecting stroke, and much more. Contact tracking apps are even playing a role in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Take them home

Your phone can be a powerful tool for your health, but it is full of systems and technologies that you may not even be familiar with. MagSafe is not currently believed to pose a risk to people without a pacemaker or defibrillator. However, if you do use medical devices, you should consult your doctor to ensure there is no potential risk of interference from MagSafe and other wireless features or devices that you own.

Sean Marsala is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based health journalist. He loves technology, usually reads, surfs the internet, and explores virtual worlds.

Yvonne Stolworthy MSN, RN graduated from Nursing School in 1984 and spent many years in intensive care and as an educator in a variety of settings including clinical trials.

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