Getting inked isn’t reserved for bikers and prison inmates anymore. Around 40 percent of U.S. adults ages 26 to 40 and 36 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 25 had at least one tattoo in 2013. That number is increasing every year, with people in the United States spending more than 1.65 billion dollars on tattoos each year, according to the Pew Research Center.

With the rise of tattooing becoming more common with individuals of any race, age, gender, or occupation, it’s no surprise that medical tattoos are making headway in the diabetic community. Wearing a medical alert bracelet every day can be a hassle for some, and a more permanent solution may be a diabetic alert tattoo.

Diabetic alert tattoos

Diabetic tattoos come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and locations on the body. Common choices include a symbol of a short rod entwined by one or two snakes with "diabetic" written across it.

But because there are no guidelines to location or what information should be given, medical tattoos aren’t a foolproof method of warning health professionals of your condition.

What emergency responders think

A tattoo may provide an emergency medical responder a clue or insight to the person’s condition and help guide them in assessment and treatment. “But if the patient isn’t exhibiting signs or symptoms of a diabetic emergency, it wouldn’t be appropriate to initiate the diabetic treatment protocol merely because of a tattoo labeling them as a diabetic,” say Douglas Wolfberg JD, EMT, and Steve Wirth, Esq., EMT-P.

They also warn emergency medical service providers to “always treat the patient and not the tattoo." The tattoo can—at best—only give you information about a potential condition you need to consider, like diabetes or a seizure disorder.

As the trend grows, many health professionals hope it’s headed in the right direction. “There perhaps should be some standardization in design and location, such as the wrist, so it's easier to identify the tattoo as an alert,” says Saleh Aldasouqui, MD, from the Sparrow Diabetes Center of Michigan State University in a Medpage Today article.

If you’re considering getting a diabetic alert tattoo, talk with your doctor about the risks associated with diabetes and tattoos.

To learn more on this topic:
Discussion: Diabetes and Tattoos
Miami Ink's Darren Brass: Tattoos and Diabetes
Diabetes at the Hospital: How to Be Your Own Advocate