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I have a pacemaker, is it safe to live near a pylon?

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) deal with issues where medical devices, such as pacemakers, go wrong and decide if any action should be taken. They have provided the following information:

"There is a small, theoretical risk of interference between pacemakers and high voltage power lines. Manufacturers of pacemakers give general cautions about pacemaker patients spending extended times under overhead high voltage power transmission lines where the lines carry more than 100,000 volts. (These are the high voltage lines between pylons, which deliver energy to substations etc and are not to be confused with the lower voltage distribution system which delivers power to homes etc).

This caution is due to fact that pacemakers are designed to sense the electrical activity of the heart - whether it is beating properly, and adjust the heart rate in response to what is sensed. Since high voltage power transmission lines also produce electric and magnetic fields there is a theoretical risk that a pacemaker may sense these fields and mistake them for a heart signal which could effect on how the pacemaker responds. However, knowing that such interference signals exist pacemaker manufacturers have included filtering systems in their designs to negate as far as possible interference signals in the low frequency region (e.g. 50Hz).

Although the risk is theoretical, we are not aware of any confirmed reports where patients have been directly affected. It is difficult for manufacturers to give detailed guidance in this area, because although fields from high voltage transmission lines can be present a few feet from the ground, in practice the surrounding body tissue and depth of implant etc lessen the effect on the pacemaker. Some types of heart leads (bipolar) also reduce the effect of a potentially interfering signal.

It would seem appropriate to be guided by the advice from manufacturers and not spend long periods directly under the lines. Walking/driving underneath, or living nearby, is unlikely to cause a problem. For specific guidance pacemaker patients (particularly those who work with high voltage power lines) should seek advice from their pacemaker follow-up clinic since they would be fully aware of the patient's heart condition and how the pacemaker has been programmed, and can liaise with the manufacturer concerned if there is any doubt."

Medtronic & Vitatron UK (a pacemaker supplier) states:
"These will present very little risk to a pacemaker patient, at normal distances. I would advise against standing within 5 meters of the pylon, although in my experience, you would not be allowed to get that close anyway."

You may also find the following information useful:

Pacemaker information: British Heart Foundation

Electric And Magnetic Fields And Your Health

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