Evaluation of Electromagnetic Incompatibility Concerns for Deep Brain Stimulators

Kelly Dustin


J Neurosci Nurs. 2008;40(5):299-303. 

In This Article

Implications for Nursing Practice

If a patient's device is turned off by an EMI, the impact may be more than an inconvenience for those who are unaware of this potential phenomenon. Specifically, turning off DBS results in the return of some or all of the physical symptoms the device is intended to treat. Resulting bradykinesia, rigidity, or tremor during a period of physical activity has the potential for significant safety risks. Patients report that their DBS turn off or require resetting when exposed to electronics that create an electromagnetic field. Such anecdotal reports include a broad array of items such as security systems from automobiles, retail stores, metal detectors, or even large speakers used for public presentations. Patients who experience EMI-device malfunction should be empowered to anticipate when their device may be inadvertently turned off so that they can compensate with additional safety measures and be able to turn their device back on.

Many neurologists and neurology nurses consider that the EMI phenomenon is to be expected, and they often teach patients with DBS how to compensate for it. The incidence of this phenomenon is variable among individuals and is related to EMI exposure both through patients' lifestyles and the sensitivity of the specific device. With that in mind, it is important to proactively educate all patients who have the device. Proactive education of persons considering implantation of a deep brain stimulator should include the potential for EMI. Follow-up programming appointments are the ideal setting for assessing the incidence of the interference problem and providing up-to-date education and reassurance. Nurses should use this information to educate current and potential patients with DBS about the possibility of stimulator failure that may result from casual exposure to electromagnetic impulses in the community and how to manage an interruption in device function.


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