Tattoos and Spinal/Epidural Anesthesia
by William Reid Camann, MD
Q. If you have a tattoo on your back can you still get a shot for pain in your back during labor?
A. This is a common question, as the popularity of tattoos has been recently increasing. In particular, the lower back seems to be a very common site. The tattoo pigments are inert dyes, which do not result in any bodily reactions once the initial tattoo healing process has been completed. The amount of pigment that is used in the tattoo process is quite miniscule. The needles used for spinal or epidural anesthesia do not carry pieces, or even particles, of skin or tissues into the spinal or epidural spaces. Once the tattoo has healed, the dyes or inks are fixed in the cells within the skin, and cannot be mobilized by a needle. There is no evidence that any harm will come from placing a clean needle through a healed tattoo.
Although some anesthesiologists may be reluctant to perform an epidural directly through a tattoo, most of the time this can be done safely. In many, but not all, cases the anesthesiologist can find an area of non-tattooed skin to insert the needle. It is always best to ask an anesthesiologist at your hospital to discuss this concern.
Of course, one should always exercise common sense in getting a tattoo, by only going to clean, reputable, experienced tattoo artists. Moreover, if you are pregnant, and considering getting a tattoo, this discussion may be useful.
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