Tattoos and MRIs: What's the risk?

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Tattoos and MRIs: What's the risk?


Is it true that you can't have an MRI if you have tattoos?

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Generally, it's safe to have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if you have tattoos. However, extra caution may be required.

MRI is a diagnostic test that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed cross-sectional images of your body. Reports of burns in tattooed areas — particularly in dark black tattoos — during MRIs have been widely circulated. It's unknown how often the problem occurs, however.

Some researchers suspect that the burns are related to the iron oxide in dark tattoo ink. Iron oxide is potentially magnetic. It also conducts electricity. If the iron oxide is heated during an MRI, the affected area may be burned.

If your doctor recommends an MRI, tell him or her about your tattoos. Likely, the benefits of the MRI will outweigh the risk of problems associated with your tattoos. To reduce the possibility of burning, your doctor may recommend placing ice packs or cool compresses over your tattoos during the MRI.

Last Updated: 2008-08-20
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