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Shock to the system: Certain wearable gadgets could interfere with implantable cardiac electronic devices

This story was originally published on @TheU.

By Vince Horiuchi - public relations associate, College of Engineering

In this high-tech era, wearable devices such as smartwatches have proven to be invaluable companions for the health conscious. But a new study from the University of Utah shows that for a small group of people, some of these electronic fitness gadgets could possibly be risky to their health — even potentially deadly.

U electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Benjamin Sanchez Terrones and U associate professor of medicine Benjamin Steinberg have published a new study that shows wearable devices such as the Samsung Galaxy watch 4, Fitbit smart scales, or Moodmetric smart rings, among others, have sensing technology that could interfere with cardiac implantable electronic  devices (CIEDs) such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices.

“This study raises a red flag,” said Sanchez Terrones. “We have done this work in simulations and benchtop testing following Food and Drug Administration accepted guidelines, and these gadgets interfere with the correct functioning of the CIEDs we tested. These results call for future clinical studies evaluating the translation of our findings to patients wearing CIEDs and using these wearable devices.”

Their study was published in the newest edition of the scientific journal, Heart Rhythm. The paper was authored by U electrical and computer engineering graduate student Gia-Bao Ha, Sanchez Terrones, Steinberg, U internal medicine professor Roger Freedman, and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona cardiology professor Antoni Bayés-Genís.

At issue are specific wearable smartwatches, at-home smart scales, and smart rings that utilize bioimpedance, a type of sensing technology that emits a very small, imperceptible current of electricity (measured in microamps) into the body. For smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or the Fitbit Aria 2 smart scale, the electrical current flows through the body and the response is measured by the sensor to determine the person’s body composition such as skeletal muscle mass or fat mass. For smart rings like the Moodmetric smart ring, bioimpedance sensing technology is used to measure a person’s level of stress.

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