Disregard the alert bracelets – there’s a developing tendency toward tattoos that spell out your condition or health-care directives right on your skin.

Around one in five Americans currently have at least one tattoo, according to a current Harris Interactive poll. And for a small but developing number, those bright patches of ink don’t show tribal insignia, the name of a loved one, an anchor, or a butterfly — they convey genuine medical information about the carrier.

An Associated Press piece on the style highlights some people who have made the settled to permanently wear their medical conditions on their bodies. Melissa Boyer of Nashville, Mich., who’s been living with type 1 diabetes since childhood, told the AP, “It’s been 29 years … and I went through I-don’t-know-how-many [medical alert] bracelets,” adding that life is much simpler with the tattoo. For his part, Ed Friedlander, MD, a pathologist from Kansas City, has taken a bold approach to telling emergency workers what actions they shouldn’t take if his heart stops: He has the words “No CPR” tattooed in the center of his chest. Although Dr. Friedlander also has paperwork that details this directive, he said that the tattoo will “make individuals a whole lot more comfortable about respecting my known wishes.”

Sailor Bill Johnson, a representative for the National Tattoo Association and a tattoo artist himself, told the AP that he does “about one medical tattoo a year” at his Orlando shop, including that most of the time they highlight some type of allergy, “penicillin or peanuts.”

But the trend for medical tattoos may be more widespread. Saleh Aldasouqi, MD, an endocrinologist at Michigan State University, introduced a case report at the 2011 American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists yearly meeting about several of his diabetes patients who decided to get medical tattoos. Intrigued, Dr. Aldasouqi began researching the trend and found “a wealth of information” online from the patient community, but very little in published medical literature.

Are tattoos safe for individuals with genuine medical conditions? For any individual who decides to get inked, potential concerns include potential transmission of hepatitis and other communicable diseases from dirty needles, as well as infections or allergic reactions at the site of tattooing. But those with a condition like diabetes may have special health concerns, including impaired immunity or a risk of uncontrolled blood sugar. To cut down on risks, it’s main to locate a licensed tattoo artist and a clean studio that follows nearby health department rules and regulations.

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