New FDA-approved pacemaker is MRI-safe

April 11, 2011 4:52:51 PM PDT
An estimated 200,000 people have to forgo a needed MRI each year because they have a pacemaker. The magnetic field of the MRI can damage the metal in pacemakers.

Now doctors think they have solved the problem with a new pacemaker called the MRI SureScan.

Liz Hogan was on her way to work when her life changed.

"She forgot where she was going. The only thing she could remember was my phone number," said Dennis Nickless, Hogan's son.

Hogan was diagnosed with brain cancer, but the 53-year-old learned at the same time that she had a heart problem and needed a pacemaker.

But there was a dilemma: If she got the pacemaker, it would make it hard next to impossible to get the MRI scans she needs to treat her brain cancer.

"They're not supposed to ever have an MRI once they had a pacemaker," cardiologist Dr Hina Siddiqui said.

The magnetic field in the MRI causes the metal in the pacemaker to heat up. It can burn the heart and scramble the pacemaker's programming, so most people with pacemakers are limited to other tests.

"People had to rely on CT scans and I'm sure cancers and different things were missed," Siddiqui said.

Two months ago, an "MRI-safe" pacemaker became available and Hogan was able to get that pacemaker.

Hogan is having an MRI right now with this device, which is the first that's FDA-approved to be safe for an MRI scanner. And to the eye it looks just the same as the conventional pacemaker.

The pacemaker has less metal and more insulation. It's approved for low-power MRI scans but not high-powered scanners. But Dr. Siddiqui says it would be a good option for most of her heart patients.

"Maybe that 2 percent of my patient population might need a different pacemaker, which has a different algorithm, but the rest would definitely benefit from this," Dr. Siddiqui said.

The MRI safe pacemaker costs about $1,000 more than conventional pacemakers, but it gives people more options for medical care down the road.

The Medtronic MRI SureScan is a pacemaker only, not a pacemaker - defibrillator combination. So far, there's no defibrillator that's safe for an MRI.

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