Tattoos & Piercings: Learning Lessons for Emergency Physicians

Tattoos and piercings were once relegated to specific cultures and societal types but are be­coming increasingly common across all ages and genders throughout the United States. “For emergency physicians (EPs), tattoos and piercings have become important non-verbal clues about someone’s lifestyle,” says Michael S. Urdang, MD, BSc, MBBS, MRCS. “In addition, these body modifications have been identified as the cause of an ED visit more often in recent years.” Considering the large scope of tattoos and pierc­ings among ED patients, EPs must recognize and understand the medical complications that may arise as a result of these body modifications. A deeper understanding of the psychological associ­ations of tattooing and piercings is also important. In addition, EPs should recognize the relevance of body modifications to the current chief complaint when patients present to EDs. In the November 2011 Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Urdang and colleagues published a review in which the most common forms of tat­toos and piercings were elucidated. The review also described how these body modifications may have affected the physical and psychological health of patients undergoing treatment. Potential pitfalls in treating complications associated with tattoos and piercings were also described in the review. Increasing Prevalence of Tattoos & Piercings Recent surveys have shown that there has been a significant increase in the prevalence in tattoos within the U.S. In 2006, a North American survey of adults aged 18 to 50 found that 24% had tat­toos and 14% had body piercings (excluding the ear). Those who were tattooed were more likely to be less educated, use recreational drugs more fre­quently, and less likely to show any religious...