Dr. Barbara Huggins

Tattoos & MRIs

April 19, 2007

Tatoos & MRIs -  April 19, 2007MRI or magnetic resonance imaging is a technique that has revolutionized the way we're able to look INSIDE the human body. But sometimes, a tattoo on the OUTSIDE of the body can complicate matters. Dr. Mom explains what can happen when these two worlds collide.

The word "tattoo" is derived from the Tahitian "tatau," or "ta-tu" which means, "to strike" or "to mark." The earliest tattoos appeared on carved Egyptian figures dated around 4000 BC. Fiji Islanders believed tattoos to insure good luck, provide protection, preserve youth and good health, and charm the opposite sex. In the United States, the first tattoo studio is believed to have been operated in New York City by a German immigrant who tattooed soldiers during the Civil War.

Since the time of the first tattoo studio, tattoos have gained popularity across all demographic and economic sectors.

However, many people with tattoos may eventually need to have an MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) for some type of medical diagnosis. An MRI scan is a radiology technique that uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. The magnet creates a strong magnetic field that aligns the protons of hydrogen atoms, which are then exposed to a beam of radio waves. This spins the various protons of the body, and they produce a faint signal that is detected by the receiver portion of the MRI scanner. The receiver information is processed by a computer, and an image is produced. The image and resolution produced by MRI is quite detailed and can detect tiny changes of structures within the body.

There has been recent concern that the pigments used in decorative tattoos or permanent cosmetics may cause distortion in the images produced by the MRI. The type of ink used in tattoos and permanent cosmetics may also contain small metal fragments or iron oxide and may cause a warm or burning sensation at the tattoo site.

Some precautions one may take when preparing for a MRI are:
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