iPad Magnets May Affect Brain Shunts

By Amir Khan on June 27, 2012 12:28 PM EDT

iPad
Magnets in Apple's popular iPad 2 can interfere with the settings of magnetically programmed brain shunts, account to a new study, (Photo: Creative Commons)

Magnets in Apple's popular iPad 2 can interfere with the settings of magnetically programmed brain shunts, account to a new study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics. The magnets can interfere with the shunt valves, which drain excess fluid from the brains of people with conditions such as hydrocephalus, researchers said.

"Most times, technology has helped medical care significantly. This is one case . . . where we have to be concerned about these things," Dr. Salvatore Insinga, a neurosurgeon at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, N.Y., who was not involved in the study, told HealthDay. "We do know programmable shunts are susceptible to magnetic field fluctuations -- MRIs, for instance, can change the settings of the shunts. [But] I don't think we know all of the devices that have a magnetic influence on these things."

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Researchers from the University of Michigan decided to look into the magnets after a 4-month-old baby with hydrocephalus was brought to the hospital with a shunt malfunction shortly after it was implanted. After speaking with the mother, researchers found that the mother had used an iPad while holding the baby and inadvertently held the tablet close to the baby's head.

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which the brain swells due to the buildup of cerebral fluid. Magnets change the size of the shunt openings to allow more or less fluid to drain out.

Researchers exposed 10 shunts to iPad magnets for 10 seconds and found that the more than half of the valve's setting changed when the iPad was .5 inches (1 cm) away. At more than an inch away, only 5 percent of the valves changed.

"Once we know a valve is dialed to an incorrect setting, it's easy to set back," Dr. Cormac Maher, study author and a pediatric neurosurgeon at the University of Michigan, told HealthDay. "The impact could potentially be serious if [the changed setting] is not recognized -- there could be complications from overdraining or underdraining."

Maher stressed that people with shunts do not need to avoid using the tablet.

"If a child uses an iPad, that's OK; they just shouldn't hold it near their head or sleep with it," he said "Routine use should be OK, people just need to be smart about it."

Apple did not respond to request for comment.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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