Medical Tattoos

On the left is a medic alert tattoo on a diabetic (tattoo by Stacy Shappa at Electric Graffitti Tattoo in Muscatine, Iowa). On the right is a tattoo that signifies a more heavy duty body modification — an implanted defibrillator tattooed by DJ Rose at Halo Tattoos in Syracuse, NY.

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

28 thoughts on “Medical Tattoos

  1. The following comments were imported from our old comment system:

    Posted on 12-21-2005 12:13:30 by Miss Practical
    These tattoos are great ideas. I have never thought of this before. Damn, it’s so practical!

    Posted on 12-21-2005 12:38:29 by shewhitewolf
    Very pratical. Would be interesting to see how potential/current employers would react to that.

    Posted on 12-21-2005 12:56:01 by Micrurus
    I once saw a pic of a tattoo on the chest of an old lady that read “do not resuscitate”.

    Posted on 12-21-2005 14:08:29 by seeking
    I’ve heard discussions of “DNR” tattoos not being valid. I’m not an EMT so I can’t say if they would honor them or not. I can’t imagine an EMT not taking heed of the above two.

    Posted on 12-21-2005 14:26:51 by Micrurus
    I think they should take those tattoos very seriously, it’s very unlikely that someone is going to get “DNR” or “Diabetic” tattooed because it’s fun (probably an exception would be the tattoo of Korn’s vocalist that reads “HIV”) I think it’s a better idea than wearing a tag that describes the condition. For example, a friend of mine worked with snakes and had a tag like the militar ones that read “allergic to horse serum”, a tattoo would be a better way to know it because unlike a tag you can’t forget to wear it or lose it in case you’re drunk or something.

    Posted on 12-21-2005 18:12:10 by LostSally
    This is really cool, I think it’s awesome and very practical!!!

    Posted on 12-21-2005 19:14:58 by Jared
    I am pretty sure that the DNR tattoo was a trend once, I think. But at the same time, paramedics can’t not save a life when they have the opportunity, just because of a tattoo…right?

    Posted on 12-21-2005 22:21:10 by .
    DNR tats are not effective at all. My friend is a paramedic, and he said they still have to resuscitate. “Meat Tags” are also very effective tattoos (especially when in the military).

    Posted on 12-21-2005 22:33:25 by BadlyDrawnGirl
    wow. Im sure my gramma would love to know about this.

    she is 60 & just started getting her first tattooes. & she wears LOADS of medical braclets.. Im sure she would like to get rid of them.

    Posted on 12-21-2005 23:00:58 by Katie
    BadlyDrawnGirl, that is awesome that your grandmother is getting inked at 60. i would love to see a BME article on her decision to get modified later in life.

    Shannon, any idea what part of the body the diabetic tat is located?

    Posted on 12-21-2005 23:19:42 by monkeyboy
    I know I’m not Shannon, but the diabetic one looks to be on the inside of the wrist.

    Posted on 12-21-2005 23:32:07 by atomicscar
    while the tats are nice, they do have a darkside: my artist told me about a very young girl who tried to get dnr tatted on her chest b/c she had tried to commit suicide multiple times and had been stopped by ems resucitating her. my artist refused though.

    Posted on 12-22-2005 03:45:20 by ??
    Don’t you have to have a legal order signed by a doctor on record to be considered DNR?

    Posted on 12-22-2005 10:34:26 by glider
    Yes, I think the diabetic tattoo is on the wrist.

    Posted on 12-22-2005 14:28:14 by Micrurus
    Maybe the doctor could tattoo the legal order on the patient :D

    Posted on 12-24-2005 04:19:41 by kittiegurl03
    I don’t see why you’d have to have dr. signed orders to be DNR. If you want to be DNR, a doctor has no right to even TRY to make you change your mind. And I would consider a DNR tattoo valid. Just as valid as the diabetic one, or say, an allergy one (which would also be a GREAT idea). The only dilemma…could you get sued for resuscitating someone with a DNR tattoo?

    Posted on 12-24-2005 10:57:10 by Micrurus
    I guess in the USA you can get sued for about everything, but I guess you can find a more sympathetic judge in case you had a diabetes or alery tattoo instead of a DNR tattoo. Maybe a good idea would be a tattoo that reads “DNR, if you resuscitate I’ll see you in court” :D

    Posted on 12-30-2005 21:10:55 by outmywindow
    Heh — I’ve worn a Medic Alert bracelet for about 10 years now and I have multiple tattoos, but I can’t see trading the metal in for a bit of ink. “Allergic to penicillin” doesn’t seem all that cool to have written on my wrist. Besides, I think I’ve taken the bracelet off twice at the most in the 10 years I’ve had it, so no worries about me losing it… My arm actually feels weird when the bracelet is not on, so I doubt I’d unknowingly lose it.

    Posted on 01-08-2006 19:49:18 by chicagodoc
    A DNR tattoo would never be valid because an actual DNR form is a legal document which is kept on file in the patients medical records. As far as I know a DNR does not require a doctors signed orders but instead requires the persons signature. The difference between a warning of being diabetic and representing a legal document through tattooing are two totally different situations. DNRs exist to both protect the patient, their doctors and even the family. Alert braclets serve to warn a EMT and provide information that may not be able to be expressed by the patient…some diabetics do not wear medic alert braclets.

    Posted on 01-08-2006 19:51:50 by chicagodoc
    Sorry to follow up…as an EMT I must have a valid and current DNR (they must be updated at least one a year I believe) in my hands to not perform life saving care for someone. I would personally not honor a DNR tattoo unless I had the proper paperwork as well.

  2. Last post was January . . . I’m pretty late on this response . . . but I just got the inspiration for this after taking being trained in first aid . . . so glad to see it’s a semi-acceptable practice.

    I’m fairly sure no one would question “bipolar disorder”.

  3. A DNR tattoo is not valid because you must have the actual original DNR copy. I am an EMT we cannot even accept a copy of the DNR it must be the original. It must be signed by the patient or patients family if patient cannot make that decision themselves and the doctor. Even if you have a DNR if the actual original copy cannot be presented to the EMTs or Rescue personnel they are obligated by law to start CPR.

  4. very tricky. as a medic and an instructor I have a big prob with this. first of all dnr is not do not treat so the pt must me in full cardiac arrest. A person who is bleeding severly and goes into cardiac arrest is able to be saved with fluid. and what about diabetics. d50 and cpr can easly produce a valuable save. asthma, allergic reactions. there are too many varibles for me to honer a dnr tattoo. now if it said ” signed up to date dnr in wallet, on fridge, upper right hand dresser drawer, or in the glove box only valid if I have been in full cardiac arrest without cpr for more than 10 min, or if time of advanced cardiac care and defibrilation is more than 20 min. I have had too many saves that live normal lives now. but I agree. I dont want to be a veg either. on the other hand I im 25 and if by chance I am injured I would want my organs to be harvested to help others. My advice is no DNR under 60 there is so much we can do now with acls. just make your wishes known to your family. my wife and parents know that I would want to be kept alive until my organs could be collected. tough decision and not easy to talk about You could also contact your local EMS and ask about laws in your state.

  5. it looks awesome id love to have 1 do you reckon that you could post me some images of other people that have diabetic tattoos and a good place to put one of them

  6. it looks awesome id love to have 1 do you reckon that you could post me some images of other people that have diabetic tattoos and a good place to put one of them

  7. I am glad that there is a forum on this. I was thinking about getting a medical alert tattoo for diabetes but really didn’t know what it would look like. Thanks for the photo. Would love to see some other pics if there are some available. One question I had was would EMTs check for a tattoo on the inner wrist? A braclet or necklace is easy to identify but would an EMT physically turn the arm over to check for a tattoo?

  8. I am a diabetic and i always forget to where those damn braceletts a tatoo like that would be a great alternative if 1. employers didnt bitch and 2. It was a legal medical identification method

  9. I plan on getting ‘Do not resuscitate’ on my chest. I will be 29 in a couple of weeks, and I worry that my family will not be around to express my wishes. I don’t care if it won’t hold up because it is a DNR tattoo, I think emergency personnel should respect a tattoo on a person despite their age. I will not change my mind over it, so this doesn’t matter if I am 29 or 60 years old.

  10. I don’t think if you’re a diabetic you should get a tatt on the inside of your wrist.It would hurt more. On the outside is a better option.But I’m a 13yrold diabetic, What would I know?
    A lot maybe since I’m getting one done on me wrist today.Whoo Hoo!Wish me luck + goodbye medical braclets!

  11. There are very few medical emergencies that a competent EMT or Paramedic, nurse or DOC, cannot find and fix. There are very few medication allergies that are significant in merical emergencies. Unless you don’t care about this, do your research before getting a medical tattoo.

  12. Oops, meant to add that you have to remember that most medical professionals are NOT going to be looking for tattoos, so they’d have to be in a very visible place, and be very visible done.

  13. yeah the whole tatt of a bracelet is better than wearing one im 23 and tryin to decide what exactly i wanna get…been diabetic for 13 years and have no tatts but looking to get one very soon…….any ideas or pics………

  14. I have a spinal cord stimulator implant and I am not allowed to have MRI’s or CAT scans because the powerful magnets would rip the implanted battery and components out of my body.

    I have been thinking of getting a medical tat because my bracelate is very hard to read and medical personal always seem to ignore it anway.

  15. As going on calls can sometime get hectic, it’s nice to always have other notices, if the family is not there to help. About the DNR, it’s supposed to be posted in a place where the EMTs can see it in the house, generally on the fridge. It’s usually seen, and unless if the other family members say so, we are not supposed to resuscitate. I am a Firefighter, so it does have it’s ups and downs going on the medical calls, we always look for bracelets, necklaces, and anklets, so it’s always good to keep those as well.

  16. I am an EMT and although as much as I would want to honor a DNR tat I would have to try to save a patient, tat or not. Its a legal issue. Sorry guys…just how it is…everywhere!

  17. I have a Do Not Resuscitate tattoo. I am a medic and have showed it to many Drs and other EMS providers. Some Docs say they would honor it. EMS cannot honor it. I think it is insane that a DNR bracelet can be honored, but not a tattoo. How could you possibly have a tattoo and not mean it. How do you know it is my bracelet? How do you know my cheat’n Ex wife didn’t put it on me after overdosing me with insulin. By the time you figure it out, it is to late. My tattoo is real and I mean it. If I am resuscitated, I better have full function or not enough function to call a good lawyer. CPR is brutal. Resuscitation attempts in the field are most often futile. If I am dead leave me alone.

  18. Great Tattoo
    I have been wanting one because I am allergic to most pain meds..So mine would have to say something like NO OPIATES

    Where did you have your put and about how big is it in inches? I’m very interested could you email me and let me know.. It could save my life..

    Thanks so much

  19. I recently joined a gym and observed a defibilator lesson and realized that the “user” automatically placed the sticky patch where the paddles go on the left side where the person’s heart is (usually), but mine is located on the right side of my body, which is called Total Situs Inversus. This made me very nervous, so I was thinking of getting a medical alert tattoo indicating my condition, but I was hoping for some feedback (hopefully from an EMT). Also, where would I put this tat? Thank you.

  20. I was looking up the topic of Medic Alert when I come across this site. While the tatoo is a good idea to indicate that there is a medical issue, I don’t think the EMS will honor it. My dad recently passed away and even though we had a Living Trust that indicated that he wanted no heroics, there was not an original DNR signed by his doctor within the last 30 days available for them to see, so they stated that they HAD to attempt to resuccitate and transport. I am a nurse and was not aware that this was the law.

  21. I just got my DNR tattoo. A paramedic CANNOT follow it. BUT, all my doctors, and my hospital have a copy of the legal order. The Para’s will radio in that I have the tattoo and the hospital can easily search my records for it.

    I live in Florida and the Terri Shiavo episode really freaked me out. My living will etc., was done by a lawyer, it is 14 pages long, and there are copies with each of my family members, as well as closest friends. I also keep a copy in my glove compartment.

    I’m just sayin’

    Faith in Gainesville Florida

  22. well im a paramedic and the dnr tatto doesnt work due to the fact that we still have to work a person unless we see writen documentation sighned by the patient and his doctor . there for they dont work but the rest of them like diabetes they prety cool actually

  23. Tattoos alerting to a medical condition are very practical. After all,a medical alert bracelet or necklace can be lost or the person may forget to wear it.

  24. My sons 15 yrs old and I think it’s the most wonderful idea ever.
    He thinks that wearing a Medic Alert Bracelet is terrible, hence a tattoo. I’m so glad that my sister came across a picture of someone with the tattoo.

  25. I wood like to get some tattoo coverage for my Vitiligo I have it on various parts of my body.
    The most concerning is around eyes. I understand women get eye shadow and eye liner.
    I have white ares around my eyes which is typical in Vitiligo cases. I need to find out how does this i.e
    Street parlors or hospital clinics.

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