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Why Medical Tattoos Shouldn't Be Taboo

Sean Johnson
Published: Friday, May 25, 2012

A growing number of health care professionals are considering the use of medical tattoos as a permanent method of letting emergency workers know valuable information about certain medical conditions that require special management.

This area of interest was discussed by Saleh Aldasouqi, MD, an endocrinologist with the Michigan State University Health Team, on Thursday at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists 21st Annual Scientific and Clinical Congress.

Aldasouqi noted that many patients with chronic conditions opt to get a tattoo to denote their condition in case they require emergency treatment. These tattoos allow first responders to avoid possible complications by knowing how to properly manage patients given the conditions they may have. For example, many diabetic patients get a tattoo on their wrist or forearm. By knowing this, first responders can test the patient’s blood sugar and, if the levels are found to be low, treat the patient with glucose. Other medical tattoos denote conditions such as allergies, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Prior to the advent of medical tattoos, patients have traditionally looked to forms of jewelry, such as necklaces or bracelets, to indicate a particular medical condition.  However, Aldasouqi said that there is a lack of data, standards, and regulations associated with them.

“The medical community, and particularly endocrinologists as diabetes experts, should establish guidelines regarding medical tattoos,” Aldasouqi said. “Specifically, patients who want a medical tattoo need guidance on how to get it safely, where it should be located on their body and what it should look like.”

In the cases of diabetic patients, their blood glucose and A1C levels should be in a normal range prior to getting a tattoo in order to reduce the risk of poor healing or developing infections.

Additionally, Aldasouqi said that certain medical tattoos should appear on certain visible locations of the body. This would enable emergency personnel to locate the information quickly when responding. Since no guidelines currently exist, patients opt for several different locations on their body to denote similar conditions.

“Each minute and each second will count, as far as survival is concerned, for a patient in a diabetic coma,” Aldasouqi said. “Accordingly, the medical community must take seriously the opportunity and responsibility to establish medical tattoo guidelines.”


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