Lightning Can Knock Out Deep Brain Stimulators

According to a story from Neuroscience News, the case of a woman with neck dystonia who was using a deep brain stimulation device called an implantable pulse generator (IPG) indicates that contact with strong electromagentic fields could cause these devices to become disabled and require a reset. There are some devices that can be found in the workplace, at home, and in hospitals that could cause this effect. However, for this patient, the cause was not another electrical device, but a close proximity lightning strike.
Deep brain stimulation has been used to help treat a diverse array of psychological and movement disorders. Some of the problems that can be treated with implantable pulse generators include tremors, dystonia, and Parkinson’s disease. Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes spontaneous, involuntary muscle contractions. These can result in repetitive, twisting motions and unusual postures. Click here to learn more about dystonia.

In the female patient’s case, she was using a rechargeable IPG for her dystonia. She was sitting at home in a thunderstorm when a lightning bolt impacted the electrical arrangement of her apartment, which destroyed her air conditioner and television. About an hour after the frightening incident, she noticed that her symptoms were beginning to return. After checking in with caregivers, it was discovered that the IPG had shut down and had to be reset. While the device was undamaged, the immense electromagnetic field released from the lightning had knocked it out.

There are several precautions that patients with IPGs can take.

  1. Do not charge the device and the recharger in a chain simultaneously during a storm. This could pose a danger to the patient.
  2. Investigate the function of the IPG if symptoms appear, especially if the patient has been around anything that could release an electromagnetic field.
  3. Use a surge protector when connected a device recharger.
  4. The safest charging method is to charge the recharger first, disconnect it from power, and then use it to charge the IPG.
  5. Follow any and all safety instructions from the manufacturer when using the device.

In addition, the authors said that manufacturers should also include additional warnings about the potential dangers of thunderstorms for IPGs.

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