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Tattoos in MRIs

  Oct 6th, 2015   -     MRI Safety   -  

mom-dad-heartOne in five Americans have at least one tattoo. Did you know that the ink in a patient’s tattoos can cause burns during an MRI? What effects can the interaction between MRI and tattoos have on a patient’s skin? Fortunately, there appear to be no observable long-term effects. Short-term effects can include pain and discomfort during and after imaging, and in more severe cases, patients can experience first and second degree burns on and around the site of the tattoo.   What are the risk factors for tattoo-related burns? The level of a patient’s risk depends on many factors, but the primary ones seem to be as follows:
  • Size: Larger tattoos contain more ink, which results in a higher probability of a burn occurring.
  • Ink Type and Color: Certain types and colors of ink contain more metallic components than others. For example, deep red ink tends to contain more metallic components and is therefore more likely to cause a burn.
  • Tattoo Location: Art on certain parts of the body is more prone to react during an MRI. Facial tattoos, such as permanent makeup, are particularly prone to burning, which is thought to be in part due to heightened heat sensitivity in the face compared to the rest of the body.
  • Tattoo Age: Tattoo ink was not produced under as stringent of safety regulations in the past as it is today, so the ink in older tattoos (especially those over 20 years in age) poses heightened risk due to the possibility that it contains unknown metallic components.
  How can the burn risk presented by tattoos be managed? Before an MRI is ordered, any body art a patient may have should be evaluated. The risks should be explained and alternative imaging methods should be considered in cases of high risk. During imaging, the patient should be monitored for swelling and redness around tattooed areas, especially around facial tattoos. Over 45 million americans have tattoos. Let’s ensure that their body art does not inhibit their MR experience so they can receive the treatment they need and deserve.