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Body Art

Body art, such as tattoos and piercings, is very popular. You may even have considered getting one. As a person with a bleeding disorder, you should be aware, however, of the risks associated with body art.

Tattoos: Know the Risks

  • Depending on the size of the tattoo, the tattooing process may take several hours. The larger the tattoo and longer the process, the more likely swelling and bleeding will occur. This is obviously a huge concern for someone with a bleeding disorder.
  • Getting a tattoo increases your risk of contracting several diseases. If the tattoo studio or artist does not follow the proper disinfection or sterilization steps, you may be exposed to viral infections, such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C; bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis, and skin infections; as well as severe skin irritation called dermatitis.
  • Some people have allergic reactions to tattoo ink. If you have a skin condition, such as eczema, getting tattooed may cause a flare-up.
  • Serious complications can result if you attempt to tattoo yourself, have a friend do it for you, or have it done in an unsterile environment. A person with a bleeding disorder should always consult a hematologist before getting a tattoo.

Medical Alert Tattoos May Not Be as Helpful as You Think

Ben Masten has been a paramedic in Fort Wayne, Indiana, since 1994. He acknowledges a need for quick access to a patient’s medical information that’s not on paper. He offers insight into the medical alert tattoo trend. According to Ben, medical alert tattoos don’t work for several reasons.

  • Paramedics are trained to look for medical information on jewelry or on cards in wallets. Having to search everyone for a medical alert tattoo would waste precious time in an emergency situation.
    • Tattoos are so common and often so numerous on an individual that having to pick out the medical alert tattoo among many artistic tattoos may be difficult and a time waster.
  • Paramedics don't normally expose the body unless the patient is in critical condition. If covered by clothing, a tattoo wouldn’t be seen.
  • It would be hard for emergency personnel to trust the tattoo’s legitimacy. While a person most likely would not tattoo a medical condition, such as hemophilia, on his or her body if he or she didn’t have the condition, it is possible.
  • There is the question of legality. For some medical orders, paramedics would not legally be able to honor that tattoo without supporting documentation, such as a doctor’s signature.

Piercing: Know the Risks

  • Getting a piercing may put you at risk for bleeding, infections, allergic reactions, scarring, and damage to nerves and, in the case of a tongue or mouth piercing, your teeth.
  • If the piercer does not follow disinfection or sterilization steps, you may be exposed to HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus, and bacterial infections. Do not pierce yourself or let anyone pierce you who is not a professional.
  • Your bleeding disorder may interfere with the healing process. There is an increased risk of heavy bleeding involved with piercing of the tongue, uvula (the little dangly thing that’s in the back of your mouth), belly button, nipples, or genitals. Bleeding delays healing, which puts you at risk for infection or other complications.
  • Tongue piercing may cause bleeding and swelling and can lead to suffocation.
  • Mouth and nose piercings are more likely than other body piercings to become infected—just think about the millions of bacteria in these places. In addition, metal jewelry in the tongue, cheek, and lip may damage your gums, chip your teeth, and cause dental problems.
  • Piercing around the belly button can lead to internal bleeding. Plus, a piercing around the navel is more likely to become infected if it becomes irritated from tight clothing.
  • Piercings around the eye can cause bleeding; pooled clotted blood (called hematoma) can cause long-term vision problems.

Take the Necessary Precautions

Medical professionals discourage tattooing and piercing for people with bleeding disorders. If someone with a bleeding disorder chooses to get any form of body art, he or she should take the proper precautions.

  • Talk to your parents.
    • If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo or piercing, talk to your parents about the risks involved. Also, if you’re younger than 18 years old, some places (and state laws) will not allow you to get inked or a piercing without a parent's consent. Talk with your parents and/or medical team about the possible risks and how best to protect yourself from bleeds, infections, and other complications.
  • Talk to your doctor.
    • A person with a bleeding disorder should not have any type of body art done without talking to his or her doctor beforehand! Your doctor can give you the best advice regarding the procedure, pain, follow-up care, and potential complications. The type of bleeding disorder you have and its severity can play a role in treatment both before and after your procedure. You may need to treat before and after the tattoo or piercing—particularly if you have a severe bleeding disorder.
  • Do your research!
    • Don’t just walk into a random shop and get a tattoo or piercing. You should thoroughly research the various laws and health codes, reviews, and citations to the shop and artist you’re planning to use. Tattoo and piercing practices vary across the country and different laws about licensing, training, and inspections may apply. Research the various artists in your community, and look for someone who does great work and will also keep you safe.
  • Inform the artist.
    • Tell your artist you have a bleeding disorder. Explain that you’ve talked to your doctor about the risks. Many shops ask customers to sign a form that outlines the shop's rules and regulations and releases the shop and artist from any liability if something goes wrong. These consent forms often include a clause that states people with bleeding disorders are at risk and should speak with their physician prior to getting a tattoo or piercing.
  • Consider the placement.
    • Think long and hard about where you want your body art. You should avoid the head, neck, mouth, and genital regions because bleeding and swelling in these areas could be dangerous. In addition, some parts of the body are more likely to bleed or get infected. Speak with your hematologist about the best spot for your body art. Remember: tattoos are permanent and the removal process is very painful!
  • Check out the art shop.
    • Make sure the shop is well lit and clean.
    • Check for any required licenses and certificates.
    • Ask about or check how the shop sterilizes their equipment. Tattoo shops should have an autoclave. If the shop doesn’t have one, don’t get tattooed there.
    • The artist should put on a new pair of disposable gloves before setting up supplies.
    • Always insist you see the artist remove a new needle from a sealed package prior to the procedure. The piercer should never use a needle that has been soaking in a liquid because the liquid can contain harmful bacteria.
    • Tattoo artists should also use a new tube of ink and pour the new ink supply into new disposable containers.
    • Piercers should properly dispose of needles in a sharps container.
  • Take care of your body art.
    • Listen to your artist regarding how best to care for your body art. Whether it’s a tattoo or a piercing, you’ve created a wound that’s at risk for infection and disease; it will need time to heal. It's up to you to protect and treat the wound to prevent infections or other complications. Your tattoo may get a patch of shiny skin over it or it may scab. Leave the scab alone! Picking the scab may lead to infection, bleeding, or damage to your tattoo. If you have complications during the healing process, talk with your doctor. Do not rely on remedies your friends recommend or advice from the tattoo artist.

Consider the Alternatives

There are many types of temporary tattoos that resemble real ones. They can be drawn, painted, or airbrushed on the skin. There is far less risk involved with these than permanent tattoos and the removal process is much easier. There are various non-piercing body jewelry options too. Check out magnetic and clip-on jewelry that mimic body piercings.