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Possible Influences of Spark Discharges on Cardiac Pacemakers

Korpinen, Leena*; Kuisti, Harri; Tarao, Hiroo*‡; Virtanen, Vesa§; Pääkkönen, Rauno**; Dovan, Thanh††; Kavet, Robert‡‡

doi: 10.1097/HP.0000000000000373

Exposure to spark discharges may occur beneath high voltage transmission lines when contact is initiated with a conductive object (such as a motor vehicle) with the spark discharge mediated by the ambient electric field from the line. The objective of this study was to assess whether such exposures could interfere with the normal functioning of implanted cardiac pacemakers (PMs). The experiment consisted of PMs implanted in a human-sized phantom and then exposed to spark discharge through an upper extremity. A circuit was designed that produced spark discharges between two spherical electrodes fed to the phantom’s left hand. The circuit was set to deliver a single discharge per half cycle (every 10 ms) about 10 μs in duration with a peak current of 1.2–1.3 A, thus simulating conditions under a 400‐kV power line operating at 50 Hz. Of 29 PMs acquired, all were tested in unipolar configuration and 20 in bipolar configuration with exposure consisting of 2 min of continuous exposure (one unit was exposed for 1 min). No interference was observed in bipolar configuration. One unit in unipolar configuration incorrectly identified ventricular extra systoles (more than 400 beats min−1) for 2 s. The use of unipolar configuration in new implants is extremely rare, thus further minimizing the risk of interference with the passage of time. Replication of this study and, if safety for human subjects can be assured, future testing of human subjects is also advisable.

*Environmental Health, Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland; †Fingrid Oyj, Helsinki, Finland; ‡Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Kagawa National College of Technology, Japan; §The Heart Center, Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland; **Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Tampere, Finland; ††SP AusNet, Australia; ‡‡Electric Power Research Institute, United States.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

For correspondence contact: Leena Korpinen, Environmental Health, Tampere University of Technology, P.O. Box 692, 33101 Tampere, Finland, or email at

(Manuscript accepted 10 August 2015)

© 2016 by the Health Physics Society