The research was performed by 14-year-old high school freshman Gianna Chien of Stockton, California and her colleagues. They found that magnetic interference could change the settings and even deactivate the technology of implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs).
Chien was helped by her father, a cardiologist. She asked 26 volunteers with ICDs to hold the iPad 2 at reading distance and then, on a separate occasion, to hold the tablets against their chest.
The study showed that magnets imbedded in the iPad 2, as well as its Smart Cover, could interfere and disrupt the workings of ICDs.
Specialized magnets are rooted in the heart devices to allow doctors to adjust their settings on a set schedule. The iPad 2 and its Smart Cover magnets can undermine an ICD's ability to stabilize sudden rapid heart rates, such as fibrillation and tachycardia.
This danger can happen when a person falls asleep with the tablet sitting on their chest. Of the study participants, 30% had interference with their devices when the iPad2 was placed in that position.
However, electromagnetic interference was not seen when the iPad was at a normal reading distance from the chest. The magnetic field falls off rapidly with distance, according to Gianna Chien. Also, larger people who have more fat on their chest - not only in their abdomen - are less sensitive to the interference.
The authors suggest that other devices with imbedded magnets, such as cellphones and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could also impact cardiac rhythm devices. These were not examined in this study.
"Since tablets are becoming more common, I hope these findings will encourage patients who have or may be a candidate for implantable defibrillators to talk to their doctor about precautions if they use a tablet like the iPad 2."
A previous study conducted in 2006 also by the Heart Rhythm Society, revealed that magnets can pose a serious threat for patients with pacemakers and ICDs