Can the upcoming solar storm turn your pacemaker into a killer inside you?

It has been predicted that today (Febr. 17, 2011) one of the largest solar storms in years will reach the earth and may interfere with sensitive electronic equipment, such as GPS receivers in cars and PDAs. Also air traffic and power grids may suffer from this kind of interference.

 Solar Storm 

Solar storms, also called geomagnetic storms, are caused by solar coronal mass ejections and modify the electromagnetic fields in the ionosphere, magnetosphere and heliosphere. They usually last only one or two days and can cause auroras further away from the poles than usually. According to Wikipedia, "On March 13, 1989 a severe geomagnetic storm caused the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power grid in a matter of seconds as equipment protection relays tripped in a cascading sequence of events. Six million people were left without power for nine hours, with significant economic loss."

So how dangerous are these solar storms for life-supporting devices like pacemakers and neurostimulators? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the physical and electrical effects of solar storms. Solar storms induce fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. These fluctuations, in turn, can induce currents in large electrically conducting structures, such as power grids and metal pipelines, leading to damaged transformers and corrosion. Solar storms also influence the electrical currents in the magnetosphere and the ionosphere and thereby affect wireless communication that propagates through them.

So my conclusion: as long as you do not use your shortwave radio or CB set to control your implantable device remotely and you do not power it from the mains, you’re safe. Ain’t that a relief?

Wouter

4 responses to “Can the upcoming solar storm turn your pacemaker into a killer inside you?

  1. Dear Sirs: A few weeks ago in calm wheather, our lights flicked off and my sons Pacemaker flicked at the same tme. Could this hve been an EMG test or a solar flare?

  2. Dear David,

    I am not sure what you mean by “pacemaker flicked at the same time”, but my best guess is that due to a power interrupt a large magnetic flux has been generated that interrupted the normal operation of your son’s pacemaker. If you were on the road, e.g., in a car, a power interrupt in the car wiring system may have created a similar glitch in the pacemaker. Don’t worry too much. Pacemakers have been implemented with a fallback mechanism that will set a safe pacing rate in case the sensing circuitry receives too much electromagnetic interference.

  3. I am pacemaker dependent. Should I get inside our metal dust-bin ’till the solar storm has passed?

    nervous!!!

  4. Dear Colin,

    There is no reason for concern. Pacemakers have several fallback mechanisms that prevent them from creating an unhealthy situation in case of malfunctioning of any of its elements. Also, as explained in the above blog, the solar storm cannot really create problems inside a pacemaker.

    Wouter

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