Beware of getting a tattoo if your immune system isn't up to scratch, doctors warn

June 18, 2018, British Medical Journal
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Getting a tattoo may have some unexpected complications if your immune system isn't up to scratch, warn doctors in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

The warning comes after they treated a woman for in her left hip, knee and thigh some months after she had been tattooed.

She had been taking drugs to dampen down her for several years after receiving a double lung transplant in 2009.

Her right leg had been tattooed several years earlier, with no ill effects, and she decided to have another on her left thigh.

Immediately after this one, she experienced mild skin irritation, which is not unusual, explain the authors. But 9 days later, she developed pain in her left knee and thigh. Her symptoms were so severe that she needed strong painkillers.

Although her symptoms eased, they were still troubling her 10 months later. So she was referred to a rheumatology clinic, where she was tested for various conditions, the results of which all came back negative.

But a biopsy of her thigh revealed that she had inflammatory myopathy—chronic muscle inflammation. This is often accompanied by muscle weakness and pain.

In many cases, the cause of this isn't known, and it may arise spontaneously. But in this case the doctors believe that it is likely to have been linked to the tattoo process itself, the effects of which may have been compounded by a compromised immune system.

"While we acknowledge that there is no evidence to definitely prove the causative effect, the timing of onset and the location of the symptoms correlated well with the tattoo application and there were no other identifiable factors to cause the pathology," they write.

The woman was given physiotherapy to strengthen her thigh muscles, and one year after the start of her symptoms, she began to improve. And after three years, she was free.

How the tattooing process might have contributed to the woman's symptoms isn't clear. But it is well known that the type of ink or colourant used in tattoos can cause a reaction, say the authors, who point out that tattooing has been associated with various complications, ranging from mild skin irritation to systemic infection.

"The tattoo industry has no regulated or professional body to enhance standards across the UK," highlight the authors. "In this case, the tattoo application by an unregulated parlour, combined with the patient's immune suppression could have resulted in the adverse reaction," they suggest.

Getting a is becoming increasingly popular, they add, so patients with compromised immune systems should be aware of the potential risks associated with this type of decorative body art.

Explore further: Isotretinoin may impair wound healing after tattoo

More information: Case report: Unusual complication of a tattoo in an immunosuppressed patient, BMJ Case Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1136/bcr-2018-224968

Related Stories

Isotretinoin may impair wound healing after tattoo

June 22, 2017
(HealthDay)—Isotretinoin may impair wound healing after tattooing, according to a case report published online June 16 in the International Journal of Dermatology.

AAD: Complications of tattoos and tattoo ink discussed

March 1, 2013
(HealthDay)—Complications linked to tattoos and tattoo inks include allergic reactions, serious infections, and reactions that can be mistaken for skin cancer, according to information presented at the annual meeting of ...

How tattoos are maintained by macrophages could be key to improving their removal

March 6, 2018
Researchers in France have discovered that, though a tattoo may be forever, the skin cells that carry the tattoo pigment are not. Instead, the researchers say, the cells can pass on the pigment to new cells when they die. ...

Getting 'inked' may come with long-term medical risks, physicians warn

May 28, 2015
In what they believe to be the first survey of its kind in the United States, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have found that as many as 6 percent of adult New Yorkers who get "inked"—in other words, those who ...

Study shows that tattoo artists are first-line responders to skin health concerns as well as tattoo complications

June 10, 2016
Tattoo artists frequently encounter adverse tattoo events according to a New York University Department of Dermatology study, published this month in the Karger journal Dermatology.

FDA warns that tattoo inks can cause infections

August 7, 2014
Thinking about getting inked? Check the bottle first.

Recommended for you

Researchers discover influenza virus doesn't replicate equally in all cells

September 19, 2018
The seasonal flu is caused by different subtypes of Influenza A virus and typically leads to the death of half a million people each year. In order to better understand this virus and how it spreads, University of Minnesota ...

Flu season forecasts could be more accurate with access to health care companies' data

September 19, 2018
In an era when for-profit companies collect a wealth of data about us, new research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that data collected by health care companies could—if made available to researchers and public ...

Drugs that stop mosquitoes catching malaria could help eradicate the disease

September 18, 2018
Researchers have identified compounds that could prevent malaria parasites from being able to infect mosquitoes, halting the spread of disease.

Vaccine opt-outs dropped slightly when California added more hurdles

September 18, 2018
In response to spiking rates of parents opting their children out of vaccinations that are required to enroll in school—and just before a huge outbreak of measles at Disneyland in 2014—California passed AB-2109. The law ...

New evidence of a preventative therapy for gout

September 17, 2018
Among patients with cardiovascular disease, it's a common complaint: a sudden, piercing pain, stiffness or tenderness in a joint that lasts for days at a time with all signs pointing to a gout attack. Gout and cardiovascular ...

"Atypical" virus discovered to be driver of certain kidney diseases

September 14, 2018
An international research team led by Wolfgang Weninger has discovered a previously unknown virus that acts as a "driver" for certain kidney diseases (interstitial nephropathy). This "atypical" virus, which the scientists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.