For three years, a 31-year-old woman from Scotland had chronic pain in her knee that was so severe it sometimes kept her awake at night. The apparent cause of her pain, as discovered by her doctors, may have been a trip to the tattoo parlor. Now, the authors of the woman's case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, are urging both doctors and patients to take tattoos into consideration when mysterious medical symptoms arise.
According to Time, the woman underwent a double lung transplant in 2009 and took immunosuppressant drugs to prevent organ rejection. As a result, her immune system was reportedly already compromised before she decided to ink Jack and Sally Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas across her left thigh.
Only nine days after receiving the tattoo, she reportedly began to experience pain her hip, knee, and thigh that was so intense, she took some heavy-duty painkillers manage it, according to Metro UK. When multiple rounds of tests found no obvious cause for her discomfort, she was referred to a rheumatology clinic in Glasgow 10 months later, where a thigh biopsy revealed her condition: inflammatory myopathy. Her doctors reportedly had a hunch that the large thigh tattoo might have had something to do with her symptoms, even though the link wasn't clear.
As reported by Time, the lead author of her case study, William Wilson at the University of Glasgow, said, "Nobody had inquired about the tattoo. But given she had unusual symptoms that were otherwise unexplainable and the onset of this pathology was at the same time and location as the tattoo, that sent the bells ringing for us thinking that there was a possible link."
Wilson said he hopes that this case serves as a reminder to consider the unusual when other logical medical explanations don’t seem to be adding up. He also warns physicians to carefully examine patients with a history of weakened immune systems.
According to The Guardian, Wilson cautioned in the study, “We know that in those individuals, the risk of infections is higher when you have any procedure, whether it is planned surgery or tattoo or piercing, so we would say in those instances that you should consider carefully — speak to your doctor if you are not sure and make sure that the person you are getting the tattoo done from is suitably qualified and follows all practice to keep everything sterile.”
Wilson was able to treat the woman with steroids and physical therapy, although it took three full years for her symptoms to fully subside. Although talking about tattoos with your doctor may seem unusual, it could be the key to solving medical dilemmas much more quickly and effectively.
“For some physicians, discussing tattoos might seem awkward, but doctors should be thinking about tattoos and risks when people present with unusual symptoms that are not obviously explainable,” Wilson told Time. “Doctors need to consider [tattoos] might be a risk factor.”
There are a bunch of tattoo safety tips that can keep you safe and healthy after getting inked, but some things are beyond your control. As we know, it's totally possible to be allergic to tattoo ink, and infections are a very real risk. That's why it's super important to be educated about all the risks involved and the best practices for after care before you head to the tattoo parlor.
Ultimately, you'll probably be fine after getting inked, but if you're in a high-risk group, it's best to consult with your doctor beforehand. And if you start experiencing unexplained symptoms at any time, tattoo or not, give your doctor a ring.
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