Headphones May Affect Heart Implants, Pacemakers

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By Patrick SauerMONDAY, Nov. 10, 2008 (Health.com) — Most people with pacemakers or implanted defibrillators enjoy their iPod or other MP3 player just as much as anyone else, but a new study suggests they should be cautious about where they store the headphones.

The headphones contain magnets that could potentially cause interference if placed directly on the chest above the heart device, according to a report presented this week at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans.

“For defibrillator patients, it is a much bigger concern because the magnet can temporarily deactivate it,” says the study’s senior author, William H. Maisel, MD, director of the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston. Pacemakers are designed to boost slow heart rhythms, and when exposed to magnets, they may deliver signals that tell the heart to beat faster, whether it needs to or not.

About 250,000 people in the United States each year are given pacemakers. An additional 125,000 receive implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), which can shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.

In the new study, the researchers attached eight types of headphones to iPods and tested them on 60 patients with ICDs. The earphones were either earbuds or clip-ons, not the larger noise-canceling varieties favored by business travelers and DJs.

The headphones were placed on the chests of patients, directly over the ICDs. Electromagnetic interference occurred in 14 patients, or 23%. There weren’t any problems if the headphones were 3 centimeters or more above the skin’s surface.

Next: What to avoid if you have a pacemaker or ICD

Dr. Maisel said patients with pacemakers and ICDs are told that magnets can interfere with their implant’s function, but they may not be aware that headphones contain the magnetic substance neodymium, which helps with sound reproduction.

The magnetic strength of the headphones varies by brand and model, but the study found that 3 centimeters, or about 1.2 inches, was a safe distance for all.

When in use, headphones are obviously a safe distance from the implanted device. However, Dr. Maisel says pacemaker and defibrillator patients shouldn’t tuck them in their front pockets, drape them over their shoulders, or allow a loved one to rest his head on their stomach while mellowing out to an iPod.

However, not all experts are convinced that MP3-player headphones pose a hazard to heart implant patients.

Karol Watson, MD, PhD, codirector of preventative cardiology at UCLA, says that the study is theoretical and needs more data to show the risk is real. At one point, for example, it was even thought that digital music players, such as iPods, could interfere with pacemakers; later studies—including one by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—later refuted that claim.

“There’s no reported cases in the headphone study,” Dr. Watson says. “Plenty of people with implanted cardiac devices listen to iPods, so if there was something there, we would have seen it.”

Other research presented at the meeting suggests that most devices do not affect the implants in a significant way, even if they sometimes produce electromagnetic interference in a laboratory test. They include products and devices such as Bluetooth headsets used with cell phones, handheld metal detectors used by airport security, iPods, iPhones, electric blankets, and pills that are swallowed and used to image internal organs by transmitting wireless data.


Related Links:

Help! Headphones Shocked My Ears on the Treadmill!

7 Symptoms of Arrhythmia

What It’s Like to Have an Implantable Defibrillator

How a Pacemaker Can Give Your Heart New Life

How Alcohol Withdrawal Can Lead to Heart Failure

True Blood star Nelsan Ellis struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years before his untimely death, according to a statement released Monday by the actor’s manager, on behalf of his family. Ellis, who played fan favorite Lafayette on the HBO series, died of heart failure on July 8, at age 39.

“After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own,” wrote Ellis’ manager, Emily Gerson Saines, in the statement. “[D]uring his withdrawal from alcohol he had a blood infection, his kidneys shut down, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted, and his dear sweet heart raced out of control.”

Until there is a toxicology report, we can’t know for sure whether there was a link between Ellis’ substance abuse and his . But there’s no question that withdrawal from alcohol or drugs can wreak havoc on the body’s organs, especially the liver and heart, says Linda Richter, PhD, director of policy research and analysis at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in New York City.

RELATED: 17 Worst Habits for Your Heart

“Prolonged alcohol use weakens the heart muscle and makes it less able to pump blood efficiently,” she explained in an email to Health. “The lack of adequate blood flow interferes with the proper functioning of all of the body’s organs, and can lead to heart failure and other potentially fatal health conditions.”

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and struggles to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. 

A study published in 2014 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that even moderate drinking may raise a person’s risk of heart problems. The researchers followed more than 79,000 adults for up to 12 years and found that those who drank one to three drinks per day were more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure, as well as blood clots, , and other heart-related complications.

“The brain adapts [to alcohol] by releasing chemicals with the opposite effect,” or natural stimulants, says Richter. If someone has developed a dependency to alcohol and you suddenly remove it from their system, those chemicals can overstimulate the brain and body. “This can result in dramatic changes in how the brain controls circulation (blood pressure and heart rate) and breathing, increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death.”

That’s why it’s so dangerous for alcoholics to quit cold turkey, says Edwin Salsitz, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome—which can include seizures, bouts of disorientation, and severe —has a 5% to 10% mortality rate.

Experts recommend that people with substance abuse problems enter a treatment program, either in a hospital or community-based setting, where they can taper their use of alcohol or drugs under medical supervision. “There is a protocol and medicine is often used to regulate blood pressure and heart rate, keep seizure activity at a minimum, and deal with some of the physical misery they’re going to go through,” says Gerard Schmidt, president of the Association for Addiction Professionals, who is based in Morgantown, West Virginia.

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But rehab isn’t always successful, of course. Many people like Ellis go through multiple programs without a successful long-term solution. A sense of pride or shame may drive someone to try to quit on their own, adds Schmidt.

In Ellis’ case, Dr. Salsitz (who never treated the actor) said he would be surprised if alcohol withdrawal alone led to heart failure in a man so young. “For someone his age, alcohol wouldn’t typically cause heart failure,” he says. “We won’t know until the toxicology report is released.”

Husband Saves Wife by Administering CPR as She Went Into Cardiac Arrest Weeks After Giving Birth

A husband relied on his Red Cross CPR training to save his wife as she went into cardiac arrest just weeks after she gave birth to their son.

When Luke Benrud walked into his kitchen and found his wife, Andrea, laying on the floor, his first thought was that she could have tripped on a step walking back into the house. But as he stood there holding their newborn son, Aiden, he noticed Andrea’s face turning a bright purple hue, and he knew then that he had to act quickly.

“I checked her head and there wasn’t any blood, then I realized she didn’t have a heartbeat, or anything,” Bedrud, 31, of Appleton, Wisconsin, tells PEOPLE of the terrifying night in August 2016. “I set Aiden down, he’s screaming, and I got on the phone with 911. I had them on speakerphone while I’m giving Andrea chest compressions with my 5-week-old screaming in the background and our dogs running around.”

Benrud pumped down on his wife’s chest over and over again, doing his best to stay focused despite the commotion around him. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the purplish color of Andrea’s face began to fade—it was the first sign that the chest compressions were working.

RELATED: New Mexico Mom Fights for Life in ICU After Contracting Rare Rodent-Borne Virus

“I knew where you needed to do the compressions, and I remember that you have to do them harder than you would think you’d have to do them,” Benrud recalls. “You do them faster and harder than you would think, especially when it’s your wife, right? You don’t want to hurt her, but I knew you have to do them with enough pressure.”

When a 911 operator told him over the speakerphone that paramedics were outside and he needed to restrain his dogs, Benrud told them there was no way he was stopping CPR until there was someone next to him ready to take over. At that point, Benrud had been administering compressions for seven minutes.

Paramedics shocked Andrea twice with a defibrillator until her heart began to beat once again. Benrud says watching this was one of the hardest parts of the entire ordeal.

“As I did CPR and talked to 911 with Aiden screaming, my adrenaline was going and I was in the moment not really processing what’s going on, just doing what I needed to do,” he says. “Once I’m standing there holding Aiden watching someone else give Andrea CPR and hook her up to the defibrillator, that’s when it hit me, the gravity of the situation.”

Andrea was placed in a drug-induced coma in the ICU for three days as doctors set her in a hypothermic state and slowly raised her temperature to minimize any damage. For those excruciating days, Benrud had no idea if Andrea would show signs of brain damage when she awoke.

RELATED: Mom Who Was Injured by Falling Tree in Central Park Files $200 Million Lawsuit Against N.Y.C.

“Those were a pretty hard three days with the little one at home,” Benrud says, “not knowing how she was going to come out of all this.”

Fortunately, Andrea didn’t experience any brain damage thanks to the life-saving actions by her husband. Doctors eventually discovered that she had an undiagnosed heart condition called non-compaction syndrome, which caused her go into cardiac arrest that night. Andrea underwent a procedure to install an ICD and isn’t expected to have any other major issues as a result of the condition. Benrud says he is thankful that he remembered what he learned in his CPR classes. which he took on a whim years ago. 

“It’s a really easy thing to do. I know it’s easy for people to think that they’re never going to need that skill, or something like that is never gonna happen to them, or their family is healthy, or whatever,” he says. “But we’re a perfect example of how it can literally happen to anybody.”

With March being National Red Cross month, Benrud wants to inspire families around the country to sign up for CPR classes so that they may be prepared when the unexpected happens.

“If it wasn’t for me knowing CPR, knowing what to do, Andrea probably wouldn’t be here today,” he says. “I would probably be raising our son on my own. It was just a huge awakening for us on how quickly life can change.”

Queen Latifah's Mother Rita Owens Has Died After Struggling with a Heart Condition

Queen Latifah is saying goodbye to the person she loved the most.

Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens, passed away on Wednesday after struggling with a heart condition for more than a decade, she announced in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE.

“It is with a heavy heart that I share the news my mother, Rita Owens passed away today,” says Latifah. “Anyone that has ever met her knows what a bright light she was on this earth. She was gentle, but strong, sweet, but sassy, worldy but pragmatic, a woman of great faith and certainly the love of my life.”

“She had struggled with a heart condition for many years and her battle is now over,” Latifah shares. “I am heartbroken but know she is at peace. Thank you for your kindness, support and respect for our privacy at this time. Much Love, Dana Owens (aka Queen Latif‎ah), forever Rita Owens’ daughter.”

Late Wednesday night, Latifah shared a video of a photograph of her mother with the caption, “143,” which means “I love you.”

In September, the Girl’s Trip actress opened up about her mother’s years-long battle.

“I’ve just learned how much you can love a person and just how strong my mother is,” she shared of her mother during a sit-down with PEOPLE Now. “I’ve come to respect her in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs. Owens told PEOPLE in 2015 that proper medication, a defibrillator implanted in her chest to avert a heart attack and a diet low in salt and fats but heavy on vegetables enabled her to live with the condition.

“I watched her come through so many things, ups and downs, hospitalizations – I mean really being in the ICU for that matter – you know, going through tough times and watching her come back and bounce back and still maintain this sense of humor, and love and drive and will,” Latifah said of Owens. “I just love her so much more, I respect her so much more. She really just gives me hope for life and the world.”

RELATED VIDEO: Queen Latifah Opens Up About Caring for Mom With HF: ‘I Just Love [My Mom] So Much More’

Latifah first revealed to PEOPLE in 2015 that when she’s not in California, she stays at her mother’s home in New Jersey, sharing caregiving duties with relatives and a nurse.

“As a caregiver – it’s just like being a parent, like some things really don’t matter,” Latifah said. “All the kind of frivolous things sort of fall to the side because there’s something way more important than all that. And when we go through these things together as a family, I realize, these are the important things, these are the important moments.”

She continued, “Whatever some tabloid printed means nothing, money doesn’t mean anything, work is great – I work so that I can take care of my family – but the family is the most important thing.”

With reporting by JULIE JORDAN

How Do Some People Live So Long With Heart Failure?

Queen Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens, has died after living with for 14 years, the actress and singer said yesterday. Owens, 69, was diagnosed with the cardiovascular condition in 2006, and filmed a PSA with her daughter in 2015 about “rising above” heart failure.

In a statement to People, Latifah said that her mother “had struggled with a heart condition for many years and her battle is now over.” Latifah also spoke with Health in 2016 about her mother’s condition and how it inspired healthy lifestyle changes for her entire family.

The phrase “heart failure” can be extremely frightening—and it certainly is a serious condition, especially because it often occurs along with other life-threatening complications. For example, Owens was diagnosed with sleep apnea at the same time it was discovered she had heart failure. In 2013, she was diagnosed with scleroderma, a lung condition for which she needed supplementary oxygen to help her breathe.

Owens’ battle may now be over, but her last 14 years are evidence that a diagnosis of heart failure is not an immediate death sentence. In fact, says Sara Tabtabai, MD, co-director of the University of Connecticut Heart Failure Center, treatments have improved drastically in recent years—and it’s now common for patients to live for many years with the condition.

“Many patients hear ‘heart failure’ and immediately think ‘heart transplant’ or ‘death,’” says Dr. Tabtabai, who was not involved in Owens’ treatment. “I try to reassure them that for most patients there are many options before we get anywhere near that: Our focus is to decrease or eliminate symptoms and improve heart function as best we can.”

RELATED: 11 Heart Failure Facts Cardiologists Want You to Know

Dr. Tabtabai explains that heart failure doesn’t mean the heart stops pumping entirely. Rather, there are two types of heart failure: one in which the heart muscle’s pumping ability is reduced (to less than 40% efficiency, down from 45% to 65% in healthy individuals), and one in which the heart pumps normally but is unable to relax and fill with blood between contractions.

Both types of heart failure cause similar symptoms. “People can feel really fatigued, or experience a decrease in their ability to exercise or do daily activities,” says Dr. Tabtabai. “Shortness of breath is very common, and so is swelling of the legs or ankles.” When swelling occurs—due to blood not circulating properly and fluid accumulating in the lower extremities—the condition may be referred to as congestive heart failure.

There’s no cure for heart failure, and if left untreated, it will quickly get worse. But the good news, says Dr. Tabtabai, is that medications and lifestyle changes can help keep the condition under control. That’s especially true for the type of heart failure that involves a reduced pumping ability.

“We have very clear medication guidelines we can put patients on—and often with these medications, we’ll see the pumping function can improve over time,” says Dr. Tabtabai. “It’s important for patients with this type of heart failure to get on the right kind of medication and take it as prescribed, and it’s very likely they see an improvement in how they feel and how much activity they’re able to complete.”

Newer medication for heart failure has also been shown to increase lifespan and reduce hospital stays, says Dr. Tabtabai. “It’s difficult to predict how patients will do, and it’s not really based on the percentage their pumping function is reduced,” she says. “Some people have very low pumping function but they feel well, have minimal symptoms, and go on and live for a long time.”

For the other type of heart failure—in which the heart muscle becomes stiff and is unable to relax—treatment is trickier. “We do not have targeted medications for this type,” says Dr. Tabtabai, “but we can focus on improving symptoms of shortness of breath and cardiac risk factors such as .”

RELATED: 20 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

Sticking to a low-salt diet can also help heart failure patients prevent complications and retain a good quality of life, she adds. Some patients are also put on a fluid-restriction diet (in which they only drink 2 liters of liquids a day) or prescribed diuretic medications to reduce swelling.

Working out can be challenging for patients with heart failure, but following an exercise routine can help people feel better and improve their ability to do other types of physical activity, says Dr. Tabtabai.

Research backs that up, too: A 2016 review of 20 clinical trials found that heart-failure patients who exercised regularly were 18% less likely to die and 11% less likely to be hospitalized during the studies than those who didn’t. (Patients should talk with their doctors about gradually increasing their exercise routine at a pace that’s safe and manageable for them.)

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For advanced cases of heart failure, patients are sometimes treated with surgical procedures, including heart transplants or the implantation of a defibrillator or an artificial pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). These options can be stressful for both patients and their caregivers, but they can also provide significant improvements in quality of life.

Dr. Tabtabai points out that regular exercise and following a healthy diet early in life can help prevent heart disease—and related heart failure—later in life. It can also help people who do develop heart failure live longer and healthier. Managing blood pressure (and keeping it below the new guidelines of 130/80) is also important, she adds.

“In my practice, I try to identify people who are at risk of developing heart failure and heart disease and try to highlight that these sorts of lifestyle measure are really very beneficial,” Dr. Tabtabai says. “If they can get in a good routine early in life, that’s our best defense against developing these conditions down the line.”