Can phone harm a pacemaker?


Q. My brother has been fitted with a pacemaker. He was told that he should not use a telephone on the side of the pacemaker. Unfortunately, that side is the only side that he can hear on - he is nearly deaf in his other ear. He has acquired a hands-free phone, but he finds it difficult to use. I can understand a ban on cordless or mobile phones, but I can't understand how a conventional phone could interfere with a pacemaker.

A. Many public places, including hospitals, have signs warning people against using mobile phones. Occasionally there is a good reason for this advice. But more often, it is based on unrealistic fears that mobile phones will interfere with electronic equipment. The British Heart Foundation gives specific advice on the use of phones for people who have pacemakers: "Mobile phones can affect some pacemakers if they are held close to the chest. It is therefore best not to carry a mobile phone in a breast pocket. Providing you hold your mobile phone on the opposite side to the pacemaker, at a distance of 15-20cm, it is unlikely to affect you. The same guidelines apply to portable telephones in the home." Your brother has been given incorrect advice. There is no reason why he cannot use an ordinary telephone on the same side as his pacemaker.


Q. My mother and I have had dental problems that prevented us from eating solid food. We were prescribed antibiotics and told to stick to a liquid diet. We both used a meal-replacement powder, Complan, to supplement our diets. However, we both experienced diarrhoea within a couple of hours of having this drink. Why is this?

A. Complan is a mixture of skimmed milk, various sugars and starches, vegetable oil, vitamins and minerals. It is one of a number of nutritional supplements that are available to improve the nutrition and energy intake of people who are unable to eat enough ordinary food. I wonder if the reason why you got diarrhoea is because of lactose intolerance. Lactose is the sugar that is present in milk. In addition to the skimmed milk, which naturally contains lactose, Complan also contains a hefty dose of pure lactose. The combination of these two sources of lactose could easily cause diarrhoea in someone who is unable to break down lactose. Lactose intolerance increases with age. You should probably avoid milk products if they upset your digestion.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail to Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions

Readers write

CP from Sheffield is in no doubt that having his gall bladder removed was the right thing to do:

"Have the operation! I suffered with gallstones for 20 years until the gall bladder became infected. Keyhole surgery was unobtrusive and I was out of hospital in two days. Having consumed a small mountain of indigestion tablets in the preceding years, I have had none in the 10 years since the operation. All I would recommend is to balance the fat content of meals - don't have all lean followed by all fat."