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Airport security scans – safe for rhythm devices?

The safety of security screening with hand-held metal detectors for people with pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) has been supported by research published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine.1

Reports of rhythm device malfunction due to airport screening have involved older screening technologies and older pacemakers, authors say, and there have been no recent reports of rhythm device malfunction among travelers undergoing airport security screening. However, 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, they add, suggesting that more up-to-date research was required.

Researchers studied 388 patients with cardiac rhythm devices in two European medical centres, using the two hand-held metal detectors most commonly used for airport security screening to test whether extended exposure (at least 30 seconds) caused the devices to malfunction.

A luggage ScannerResults showed no abnormalities on electrocardiography suggesting device malfunction during or after exposure to the detectors, measures including pacing inhibition, loss of capture, inappropriate mode switch, ventricular oversensing, and spontaneous reprogramming.

In most cases, the researchers were only able to test one or two of each kind of rhythm device. They also used only two 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).  As such, the findings must be considered preliminary until they are confirmed with more devices in real-world screening settings, the authors say.


1 Jilek C, Tzeis S, Vrazic H, et al. Safety of screening procedures with hand-held metal detectors among patients with implanted cardiac rhythm devices. A cross-sectional analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine 2011;155:587–92.

Published on: December 1, 2011

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  • ArrhythmiaAlliance
  • Stars
  • Anticoagulation Europe
  • Atrial Fibrillation Association

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