Deep brain stimulation devices, used to treat neurological movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, are vulnerable to strong electromagnetic fields that are created by other electrical devices.
But when a 66-year-old Slovenian woman’s DBS implant stopped working, it wasn’t due to interference from a device – the malfunction was caused by lightning.
In a case report published this week in the Journal of Neurosurgery, doctors described a unique case they encountered with a patient using a rechargeable DBS system to treat her neck dystonia. When her apartment was struck by lightning, the patient’s implantable pulse generator turned off in response to the sudden surge of current.
While her domestic electronic devices – like a television and an air conditioner – were burned and destroyed by the lightning strike, her DBS remained intact. At the time of the event, she was not charging her implanted battery and her charger pack was not plugged into the wall.
The authors of the case study wrote that they recommend that patients plug the chargers for their implantable pulse generators into a surge protector.
“We also advise all clinicians to regularly warn DBS patients to strictly follow the manufacturer’s safety recommendations and not to charge the recharger and IPG simultaneously during a thunderstorm,” the doctors wrote. “Last, we propose that in the future DBS manufacturers’ safety recommendations should specifically mention the possibility of hazards from naturally generated electromagnetic interference, such as during thunderstorms.”