Are Lower Back Tattoos A Contraindication To Labor Epidurals?
Posted by Clark Venable on 2/5/2006
My Google News section on 'epidurals' came up with an interesting hit: Lower-back tattoos are popular with women, but do they make having epidurals during childbirth more dangerous?. It's a very good question because, at least in my practice, lower back tattoos are extremely common in laboring women. So common, in fact, that Saturday Night Live has a commercial parody for a product called Turlington's Lower Back Tattoo Remover (quicktime | windows media).
I was taught to avoid putting an epidural needle through tattooed skin and have gone to great lengths to do so. For example, one patient had a very large tattoo of what appeared to be the face of the devil on her lower back. On closer inspection, I noticed that the devil's right nares (which was free of tattoo ink) was right over her L3-4 interspace. I wished I'd taken a picture of that epidural catheter snaking out of the devil's nose.
I can't seem to find much science on the subject save for one abstract which makes a very reasonable suggestion to avoid coring out tattooed skin by making a small incision, if necessary. This may sound like a lot of trouble, but all it takes is a 16 gauge (or similarly large) hypodermic needle inserted into the skin first, then the epidural needle through that 'incision'.
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