Heart devices and swimming pools: a new angle on pool safety

By Laura Mize • Published: August 20th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When you hear the words “pool safety,” you may think about drowning prevention or ensuring your kids don’t crack their skulls diving in.

But a team of cardiologists reports another danger: malfunctions in electrical heart devices. The doctors presented information at a conference this year highlighting several cases of pool-related problems for people with implanted heart defibrillators.

Defibrillators keep the heart from beating too fast, essentially preventing heart attack. They do so by monitoring the heart’s electrical current and sending corrective electrical signals as needed.

The doctors suspect electrical currents from pool lights or other pool systems may leak into the water, disturbing defibrillators. In some cases, the heart defibrillators actually shocked the wearers. In others, the devices ignored the extra signals but made a record of the interference.

All of the reported cases involved defibrillators, but pacemakers may have the same issue. Pacemakers use electricity to speed up a too-slow heartbeat.

Only a few cases of the swimming pool/heart device phenomenon have been reported. The experts say they suspect more cases have occurred, but the problem is probably not widespread. And while it’s important for people to be aware of these incidents, there’s no need to panic. Experts are not saying, for example, that people with a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator have to stay out of swimming pools. And swimmers in the ocean or another large body of water shouldn’t face the same danger.

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent electrical leaks in pools, but owners should look for obvious problems. Systems that are not grounded properly or old may pose more risks for everyone. If you have a heart device, assess whether you want to swim in pools, and try not to worry. Enjoy Labor Day weekend, summer’s last hurrah.