Pregnant women already have plenty to worry about. But now some doctors are pointing to another potential problem: tattoos.
The issue is whether it's safe to stick a needle through a tattoo in the lower back for an epidural -- an injection of painkilling medicine that can ease the discomfort of labor...
In 2002, a pair of Canadian anesthesiologists published a report that questioned whether administering an epidural through such a tattoo could be risky. The doctors speculated that complications like inflammation or nerve damage may arise if the needle pulled a bit of dyed skin along with it, and then deposited it into the nerve-rich region outside the spinal column.
The small study of three women -- which concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to determine if the practice is safe or not -- set off a mini-wave of panic among expectant moms.
("Why Some Expectant Moms Are Worried About Tattoos", p. D1)That's right. The study included three women. How on earth could a study of three women tell you anything? The story then goes on to quote a single anecdote from a California anesthesiologist where he speculates that it could have been a woman's tattoo that caused the problems with her epidural and more speculation about the possible effects of tattoo ink from a Canadian doctor. So, the sum of evidence that Zimmerman presents for the potential danger of combining epidurals with tattoos is a pitifully small study, an anecdote of epidural complications that a doctor speculates might have had something to do with tattoo ink, and more speculation from another doctor. There may be more evidence that would support concern, of course, but Zimmerman doesn't present it.
Look, I lament the trend in recent years toward tattoos. They look stupid and trashy, and I think that most people who get them today will have cause to regret them in later years. Furthermore, as the article correctly points out, the tattooing process itself is fraught with peril, largely due to equipment that has not been properly sterilized. But come on. Don't we have enough bad medical journalism without this pointless and misleading story?