Weak immune system: Tattoos can sometimes lead to severe pain

Be careful with tattoos if you have a weakened immune system

A few decades ago there was a widespread prejudice that a tattoo is only for prisoners and sailors. Today, however, tattoos have become fashionable among younger people and more and more people are getting tattoos. Researchers have now warned that people should not get tattooed if they have a weakened immune system. This could lead to health complications.

In their current investigation, the doctors at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow found that complications can arise when people with a weakened immune system are tattooed. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "BMJ Case Reports".

Affected woman developed severe leg pain

The doctors' warning is based on a case in which a woman with cystic fibrosis and a lung transplant developed very severe thigh and knee pain after getting a tattoo on her leg. When people take so-called immunosuppressants, they should take precautions if they plan to get a tattoo, the doctors explain. Immunosuppressive drugs are often given after an organ transplant or to treat autoimmune diseases such as Crohn's disease (an inflammatory bowel disease), lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. But people with chronic long-term diseases such as diabetes can also have a weak immune system, which also increases the risk that they will develop various complications from a tattoo.

Which interventions increase the risk of infection?

With these people, there is an increased risk of infection with every intervention, regardless of whether it is a planned operation, a tattoo or a piercing, the experts explain. Therefore, sufferers should carefully consider whether they can get a tattoo. Such people should talk to their doctor before getting a tattoo and get informed about possible health risks. In addition, it should be ensured that the tattoo artist is appropriately qualified and adheres to all practices in order to keep his work environment really sterile, say the doctors.

Woman developed swollen knees and severe pain

In the case described in the journal "BMJ Case Reports", the 31-year-old woman developed a swollen knee and leg pain ten months after a tattoo on her thigh. The pain was so severe that it even affected the sleep of those affected.

Affected had to take large amounts of pain relievers

Although the woman had had a tattoo on her other leg without problems years earlier, a week after the new tattoo developed the pain mentioned above. The pain became so severe that it had to be treated with the synthetic opioid pain reliever Tramadol. The patient also received paracetamol and the pain reliever nefopam. In addition, the woman took immunosuppressive drugs to cope with the consequences of her lung transplants and used insulin for cystic fibrosis-associated diabetes, the experts explain.

What did the investigations show?

Nothing unusual was found through blood tests and X-rays. Examinations of the fluid from the knee showed no signs of infection by bacteria or fungi, the doctors explain. However, MRI scans showed that one of the thigh muscles was inflamed. A biopsy of the muscle also showed no signs of infection, but confirmed the muscle inflammation.

What triggered the inflammation in the muscle?

In most cases, it is not known what caused inflammation in the muscle. It could be bacteria or it could be a reaction to a toxin, such as the ink used, the doctors suspect. The woman received physiotherapy and finally, after a year after the tattoo, the situation improved again, but it was only three years after the tattoo that the person was free from muscle pain.

Doctors should consider tattoos during exams

Doctors should educate patients about the potential risks of a tattoo, and tattoos should also be considered when diagnosing pain or illness, the experts advise. The woman's muscular inflammation might not be the only case of this kind. This case could simply be a rare occurrence, or there may be an underdiagnosis for patients with similar symptoms and tattoos, the study authors add. (as)

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Video: Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD - Celebration of Science (December 2021).