Diagnostic Ink: The Skinny On Medical Tattoos


Depending on what you read and where you read it, Medical Tattoos are either a hot new trend or an unnecessary, invasive and intrusive way to advertise individuality. Those who sport them, however, know one thing for certain: their potentially lifesaving tats will follow them anywhere, anytime and anyplace.

A Simple Symbol… Or Is It?

(images via: Rate My Ink and Drtel)

Though most may view the above tattoo as a strikingly beautiful symbol of the medical profession and the former definitely applies, the latter is incorrect: that’s a Caduceus, the staff of the Greek god Hermes and a symbol of commerce and negotiation. It’s often confused with the Rod of Asclepius, “a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine.” The more you know!

Diabetic, Not Copacetic

(images via: Canada.com, Tudiabetes.org and Scott’s Diabetes)

By far the most popular medical tattoos are those advising of diabetes – types 1 or 2, if you please. Why so popular? Combine the rising frequency of all types of diabetes, the potentially fatal consequences of diabetic shock, and symptoms that vary from one diabetic to another and you’ve got the perfect storm for a medical alert tattoo.

(images via: TatCafe, Tudiabetes.org and BME News)

So-called “diabetic tattoos” can be very creative beyond getting the base message across, though isn’t Hello Kitty a tad too sweet for the subject?

Alert-gic, Doncha Know

(images via: Med Alert and Medical Tattoos)

Drug allergies are surprisingly common, which can be a problem if someone’s allergic to a commonly-used drug like Penicillin. Sure, Medic Alert bracelets are effective in notifying EMS technicians and first-responders but the loose-fitting bracelets can be torn off during a violent accident. Your skin? Not so much.

Eat, Sleep, Medicate

(images via: Jim McAtee, Ironiclast and Lost-Angle)

Anesthetics are an essential component of modern medical treatment but when known allergies rear their heads, who’s gonna tell the gas jockey? You are, or at least your medical tattoo will. Ditto for food allergies, some of which can quickly cause anaphylactic shock and leave victims unconscious, comatose or otherwise unable to communicate.

CAH Tattoos

(images via: BME News, CAH Network and Icon Health Productions)

Late-Onset Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) affects the adrenal glands, which may produce too much Androgen in relation to the other two adrenal hormones, Cortisol and Aldosterone. Those affected by Late-Onset CAH typically treat the condition with hormone supplements such as Cortef. The medical tattoo at above top displays the bearer’s prescribed daily dosage of 30mg Cortef; important info for caregivers to note in case of an “adrenal crisis” that precludes normal communication.

(image via: Guelph Mercury)

“I don’t produce cortisol and can’t balance my electrolytes,” explained Emma Bortolon-Vettor, whose just-the-facts medical tattoo is shown above. “Basically, without the right treatment I dehydrate and then it’s kaput.” Having lost a number of MedicAlert bracelets over the years, Bortolon-Vettor isn’t taking any chances and contracted Heather Myles, tattoo artist and owner of InkSmith Tattoos in Guelph, Canada, to provide something much more permanent.

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