Can Your Hybrid Car's Electronics Mess Up Your Pacemaker?

Finding a dangerous lack of medical literature on the subject, Mayo doctors did some research of their own.

2012 Toyota Prius C

Toyota

At the Mayo Clinic, renowned for its expertise in cardiac care, a patient recently posed a question that apparently nobody had ever asked: Will the electronics in hybrid cars interfere with implanted cardiac devices? After a bunch of tests, the heart doctors found the answer is no.

A recently reported study is the first of its kind to address electromagnetic interference between implanted medical devices and electric or hybrid cars, according to the researchers. After the patient brought it up, doctors realized there were no studies that specifically addressed this question, explains Dr. Luis R. Scott, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic's Arizona offices. So they created one.

The researchers worked with the Toyota Prius, the most common hybrid. Patients with implanted defibrillators or pacemakers were recruited to drive a Prius in different conditions, and to sit in various locations in the car. While the car was driving, the doctors tested the amount of electromagnetic interference emitted by the electronics, and measured this against the activity of the patients' existing implants. They found the devices were indeed exposed to electromagnetic fields inside the car, but the amount of interference wasn't worrisome, Scott said.

"Based on our study, we found no reason to be concerned about riding or driving a hybrid automobile," he said.

Ever cautious, however, the researchers note that the results are really only applicable to a Prius. Other cars have different electronics and could produce varying electromagnetic fields, which may or may not interfere with medical devices. The study was presented at the 2013 American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session in San Francisco.