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Tattoos for Medical Alerts

New form of medical ID is on the rise

Retired Doctor Albert Cutter displays his new tattoo which reads 'DO NOT RESUSCITATE'. Some Americans are now relying on medical tattoos to warn first responders about important medical conditions such as allergies, chronic diseases or even end-of-life wishes.

Albert Cutter, M.D., with his medical alert tattoo. — Photo by Dean Lewins/Corbis

En español | Wil Dubois of Las Vegas, N.M., sometimes forgets to wear his medical alert bracelet or necklace. So four years ago he got a tattoo to signal that he's a type 1 diabetic.

It's on his right wrist, "where you would find it if you were checking for a pulse," says Dubois, 48, a diabetes educator at a rural clinic.

Interest in medical alert tattoos is increasing among people who have conditions that could affect treatment in an emergency. Others get tattoos to convey a directive, such as "no CPR" on the chest.

"It really serves a great purpose, but it has to be done right," says Saleh Aldasouqi, M.D., a Michigan State University diabetes expert. Choosing a licensed tattoo parlor is important, and for proper healing a diabetic needs well-controlled blood sugar before tattooing.

A word of caution: First responders aren't trained to look for tattoos, and skin damage in accidents can obscure them, says Rebecca Dinan Schneider, spokeswoman for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. "Medical alert jewelry is still the standard."

Also of interest: Diabetes-friendly recipes.

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