Tattoo or not tattoo?

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Whether it’s a small butterfly on the ankle or a skull on the arm, a jewel in the belly button or a ring through the nose, getting a tattoo or piercing is something most of us have thought about at some point. But if you have congenital heart disease you should be aware of some risks – especially if you take anticoagulants or if you are at risk of endocarditis.

Do you take anticoagulants?

Tattooing means inserting ink into your skin with a needle. This leads to minor bleeding. If you take medication like Aspirin, Marcumar, Cumadin or similair, it will inhibit your blood’s ability to clot and you will bleed more heavily. The tattoo ink will therefore be washed out by your blood, which means getting a tatoo is impossible. Watch out for unreputable tattoo studios who might tell you to stop taking your medication. This may put your life at risk. Is a tattoo really worth it?

Are you at risk of endocarditis?

If you are at risk of endocarditis, you should avoid piercing and be very careful if you get a tattoo. During the tattooing and piercing process you risk bacteria entering your blood stream, which will then continue to your heart. The safest place to get a piercing is your ear, as ears don’t contain much blood so the risk is lower.  However, The European Society of Cardiology guidelines strongly advise against getting your tongue pierced or having a piercing in any mucous membranes that contain much blood, such as your nose.

Although endocarditis is quite rare it is still a risk. If you are certain you want to go ahead with a piercing you will have to take endocarditis profylax (take antibiotics) before. Please talk to your doctor who will be able to provide you with more information. But be aware, although antibiotics lower the risk of endocarditis they don’t completely get rid of it.

What to look out for

  • Talk to your doctor about your thoughts of getting a tattoo or piercing. The risk of endocarditis differs with each congenital heart diagnosis.
  • If you are under 18, you will need the permission from your parents.
  • Make sure the tattoo parlour you choose is clean and sterile.
  • Go to a tattooist that you trust and tell them about your heart defect and the risk of endocarditis.
  • If you have recently had a piercing or tattoo look out for flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, sweats, aching joints or other symptoms. If you do experience any of these symptoms then you should see a doctor.
Author(s): Ulrika Hallin
Reviewed by: Dr. Ulrike Bauer
Last updated: 2010-10-05

Do you want to tell us about your experiences? Leave a comment on this article.

Comments on this article

06.12.2011 | Agustin Guerrero, Argentina
Hola yo tengo cardiopatias congenitas pero no tomo ninguna medicacion estoy sano!!!!
hay algun problema?
en que me tatue?
yo tengo pustos aritos y no me paso nada!!
06.12.2011 | maria arevalo, españa
llevo tiempo queriendo hacerme un tatuaje en el pie,pero tengo un una valvula cardiaca y no se si correria mas riesgo que una cardiopatia normal.