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29Apr

This information was provided by MHRA to ICDC Surrey for our patients, regarding the use of airport security body scanners and implanted electronic medical devices such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and neurostimulators.

During their travels air passengers will encounter electromagnetic radiation from a number of sources, including body scanners, metal detectors and screening wands, as well as from the sun due to flying at high altitude. Electromagnetic radiation presents minimal risks to those with implanted electronic devices. The recently introduced airport security body scanners send high frequency electromagnetic waves over the body’s surface. These electromagnetic waves pass through clothing and are reflected by the skin and do not enter the body. The energy reflected back is used to create an image of the person’s body and items within their clothing. They are intended to detect items on the body’s surface, not within the body.

MHRA advice

The MHRA is not aware of any evidence of interference problems between airport security body scanners and implanted electronic medical devices. If you have an implanted pacemaker, ICD or neurostimulator you can use airport security body scanners. You should walk through metal detectors normally and not wait within the detection zone. As with mobile phones, you should maintain a distance of 6 inches (15 centimetres) between the screening wand and the implanted device. Patients are reminded to carry their registration card with their device details on to assist airport staff when passing through security checks. Although the flight itself does not present any increased risks of interference to the implant, be aware that you may find yourself in closer proximity to wireless technology on board an aircraft than you would on land. For further information relating to your own specific implanted device please contact your local cardiac centre, doctor or the manufacturer of your device.

Background information

There are two main types of body scanner in use at present: backscatter X-ray scanners, and terahertz or millimetre wave scanners.

Backscatter X-ray scanners

These systems use low energy X-rays that are reflected off the skin to form an image. The amount of radiation emitted during a body scan is typically 40 to 80 times less than the radiation experienced during the flight itself (depending on the length of the flight). This is approximately 100 times less than that from one day of natural background radiation, and around 1,000,000 times lower than that known to interfere with active implants.

Terahertz or millimetre wave scanners

These use radio waves, which can penetrate clothing. They can be either active or passive. Passive devices use the energy naturally emitted by the human body to form an image. Active devices produce radio waves that are reflected off the skin to form an image. The energy emitted by these systems is around 100,000 times less than a mobile phone transmission. The frequency of the electromagnetic radiation used in terahertz or millimetre wave scanners and backscatter X-ray scanners does not pass through the skin and is not known to interfere with pacemaker, ICD or neurostimulator technology.

And don’t forget that if you live in Surrey you are invited to attend the ICDC Surrey Education Day on 11 May.

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