Tattoos as Medical Warning

do not get body art if you have a hemoglobin A1c above 8 percent;

make sure you go to reputable a tattoo artist;

do not get a tattoo in an area with poor circulation such as your feet;

try to avoid tattooing common injection sites.

Yimmy Householder, manager of NeedleMasters Tattoo Studio in Toledo, Ohio, and a tattooed diabetic himself, takes similar precautions. As tattoos can take long periods of time to complete and sometimes cause high anxiety, it is important for diabetics to have a stable blood sugar and food in their systems before sitting down for body art.

Before tattooing a diabetic, he says, "[I] ask them, 'Have you eaten?' 'What is your blood sugar?'

"After so many years tattooing, you can tell just by looking at someone whether they're drunk, if they have a low blood sugar ... or even if they've eaten," he says.

In addition, many tattoo artists strongly advise diabetics to avoid getting body art below the knee cap. People with diabetes typically have poor circulation in their lower legs and don't heal as well after breaking the skin.

For those who want to get tattoos anyway, Householder warns, "If they don't follow our advice we don't tattoo them. ... It's not about money, it's about health."

Special Meaning

Not all medical tattoos are meant exclusively for medical response teams. Some, like the one Jeff Broberg has on his wrist, has more meaning.

"It is my own way to continually remind myself when I am faced with a decision about having to exercise, about which food to select or how much to eat," he says.

Jones has also found alternative uses for her tattoo.

"I am so surprised ... how little people know about diabetes," she says. "[People] always comment on what a fab idea it is, and it usually allows me to educate people a little bit on how diabetes actually affects your life."

Of course, not all tattoos are permanent or dangerous. Parents of diabetics have discovered temporary tattoos for their young children.

By offering this alternative, companies like Medaware have given many parents relief when sending their children to friends' houses or sleepaway camps. Medaware glow-in-the-dark tattoos come in various designs and last up to five days; those opposed to jewelry or body art can get a pack of 14 for $2.95. However, Soard is quick to point out that these tattoos will not be seen any more readily by paramedics than the permanent versions seen on adults.

But there is yet another consideration for diabetics who opt for the permanent ink route: What happens if diabetes is cured?

Jones says this problem isn't that daunting. "If we ever get cured, all I need to do is have 'cured' written underneath!" she says.

Graham agrees. "I just tell them I'll have a great souvenir and an interesting story to tell."

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