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Is it Safe for a Diabetic to Get a Tattoo?


Is it Safe for a Diabetic to Get a Tattoo?
While I can’t comment on the effects of every health condition in connection with getting tattoos, as the mother of a Type 1 diabetic I am (sadly) intimately acquainted with this disease. And since diabetes affects all ages and all walks of life, and there are over 24 million people just in the United States suffering from one form of the illness or another, it’s understandable that a large number of diabetics will eventually find themselves contemplating a tattoo. But is that a good idea? Is it safe for a diabetic to be tattooed?

Type 1 vs. Type 2 Diabetes
First, it’s good to understand the distinction between the two major forms of diabetes— Type 1, which is often referred to as Juvenile Diabetes, and Type 2, which used to be called “Adult Onset” Diabetes. The terms Type 1 and Type 2 are more accurate because sometimes adults can get Type 1, and sometimes kids can get Type 2. And while both forms of the disease have similar symptoms, they are actually very different.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease, which basically means that the immune system gets confused and accidentally starts attacking good cells instead of bad ones. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the body attacks the islet cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for producing insulin. Without insulin, none of us can survive; insulin serves as a key to unlock the sugar in our body and turn it into energy. Without that key, the sugar builds up in the body and becomes toxic. Currently there is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes, no way to stop it once it has started attacking the pancreas, and no cure. Type 1 diabetics depend on an outside source of insulin to stay alive – many of them take up to eight injections of insulin a day or, as in the case of my daughter, wear a pump that delivers a steady drip of insulin through an IV type tube 24/7. Without insulin, a Type 1 diabetic could go into shock and die within a day or two. Too much insulin and they could go into shock and die within a few hours. Not maintaining a balance whittles away at their overall health bit by bit, eventually leading to more serious problems like neuropathy, kidney failure, blindness, and loss of limb(s).

Type 2 diabetes usually affects adults, because it’s typically the result of years of environmental exposure, bad eating habits, weight gain, and just general aging. It’s often referred to as “Insulin Resistance” because while the pancreas creates insulin just fine, the body doesn’t process it properly. Sometimes it will act like the insulin isn’t even there (resisting), allowing the sugar to build up in the person’s system and make them feel lousy until suddenly a rush of insulin will come to the “rescue” and dump so much at once that their blood sugar drops dramatically, leaving them feeling miserable again. Sometimes Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with good eating habits and exercise; sometimes it can also be reversed the same way after diagnosis. Treatment usually involves taking a pill that gives the body a boost to produce more insulin and process what it makes. If the pill doesn’t work, insulin injections may be necessary. If a Type 2 diabetic doesn’t treat their condition, the body will usually sort things out in the short term, which is why so many go undiagnosed for so long. But in the long term, years of unregulated blood sugar levels lead to serious problems like neuropathy, infection, kidney failure, and loss of limbs. Either way, diabetes is not nice.

But what does any of that have to do with getting a tattoo? Well, understanding the disease and how it affects the body can also help you to understand how other things will affect it as well.

Maintaining a Balance
Maintaining that happy medium between too little and too much insulin is a constant struggle for every diabetic. Little things that most of us take for granted – having a cold or playing a game of one-on-one with a friend - can send their blood glucose levels skyrocketing or plummeting without warning. Diabetics may check their blood glucose levels 8 times or more a day, because that’s the only way they can know what’s going on and correct a problem that might be developing. Special supplies have to be packed before taking a hike or even going to the grocery store, to be sure that all possible emergencies can be averted or remedied. Regular visits to an endocrinologist or diabetes specialist (3-4 times a year) for A1C testing* are also essential.

Needless to say, managing one’s diabetes requires almost an aggressive level of diligence, and not all diabetics are willing to put forth the effort needed to maintain that balance. When that happens, their body experiences a roller-coaster of highs and lows, and it’s the highs that slowly but surely destroy the nervous system and kidneys. The damage that is done isn’t reversible, and it is cumulative, so the more highs a diabetic has and doesn’t correct, the more lasting harm it does. That’s when it starts to interfere with their immune system and their ability to heal.

In addition to neuropathy induced by high glucose levels, diabetics often suffer from arterial hardening, which slows down circulation. The lack of blood and oxygen flow makes it very difficult for the body to heal, especially in the lower extremities of the body such as legs and feet. Add high cholesterol and high blood pressure to the mix (as is often seen in Type 2 diabetics) and a simple cut could turn into a life-threatening infection.

With Type 1 diabetics, the additional risk is whether or not they have other medical conditions besides diabetes. Since it’s an autoimmune disease, Type 1’s can sometimes be afflicted by additional autoimmune disorders such as Celiac, Graves Disease, Addison’s, and Vitiligo. If a Type 1 is battling more than one autoimmune disease, it’s just as important that they’re treating and managing those problems, too.

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