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New pacemaker allows patients to undergo MRIs

May 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Performed 60 million times worldwide each year, an MRI is one the best diagnostic tools doctors can use.

"MRI scans have become the cornerstone of imaging for virtually every part of the body," said Dr. Marc Silver, a cardiologist.

For people with a traditional pacemaker, MRIs are off limits. An MRI's magnetic fields can disrupt a pacemaker's electronic system and even burn heart tissue. Every year, 200,000 patients with traditional pacemakers forgo MRI scans because of those risks.

A new, FDA-approved device being called a safer pacemaker is changing those numbers.

Silver has implanted an MRI-safe pacemaker in some of his patients. It has several safety features like special circuitry that make it immune to an MRI's magnetic fields.

"If we now have a technology where the patients can have a pacemaker just like any other pacemaker, but know that they're safe if they have to have an MRI, that's a big deal if you're that patient," Silver said.

Some doctors say the MRI-safe pacemaker is best for patients getting a pacemaker for the first time. They say people who already have one implanted likely won't be eligible for the new technology because of the possible deadly surgical complications of switching out the device's wires.

The MRI-safe pacemaker has been used in Europe for a few years. It doesn't cost patients any more than a traditional pacemaker and is generally covered by insurance.

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