Letter: EMP Effect and Pacemakers

I have an implanted cardiac device (a pacemaker and defibrillator) and, after reading the letter about possible effects of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) on batteries, became curious as to how an EMP or maybe a strong solar flare could affect my device. I searched SurvivalBlog’s archives and saw that such an event could possibly damage the implanted cardiadefibrillator (ICD). Is there any firm evidence as to what may actually happen to an ICD or similar device in the human body and anything that can be done to counter the effects? It seems it will be a bleak future for the millions of people whose life depends on some form of technology in the event of a worse-case scenario, but, God willing, I still plan on having a long life. Thanks. – J. “Doc” Holiday

Hugh Replies: Yes, this is a troubling issue. Integral pacemakers with defibrillators have leads from the unit (usually embedded in the upper chest) to the heart. In some cases, these leads can be up to a foot long. This may be enough of an antenna to cause the device to impacted by an EMP event, but I haven’t seen any studies done on this specific subject. The failure mode should be that the unit just shuts down and quits working. There has been some mostly anecdotal discussion at The Pacemaker Club web site. However, for a more definitive answer this is probably a good topic to bring up with your cardiologist.

One Comment

  1. The cardiac pacemaker leads are shielded and would be at ground potential with the pacemaker’s case. Harry Diamond Laboratories did a study on the effects of EMP on pacemaker generators entitled, “The Effects of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) on Cardiac Pacemakers” (Report No. HDL-TR-2197). The bottom line is that there is little risk.

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