Can You Get an MRI With a Tattoo?

MRI ScannerThanks to modern technology and knowledge, most patients have a simple and painless MRI procedure. However, in rare cases, a patient with tattoos may experience discomfort. If you have tattoos and need an MRI, you can still get the scan in most situations. We recommend talking to your doctor about your options before you go through the procedure. Learn more about MRIs and tattoos in this guide.

Do Tattoos Cause Irritation During an MRI?

In rare situations, tattoos may make an MRI less comfortable. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that tattoos can cause irritation and burning during an MRI. A scientific review also reported a tattooed athlete experiencing a burn-like injury during an MRI. However, both sources mention that these issues happen temporarily and infrequently.

New Research on Tattoos and MRIs

A January 2019 study shows that these side effects happen very rarely. Its authors worked with hundreds of volunteers to discover the reactions of tattoos in MRI machines.

The researchers studied 330 volunteers who had at least one tattoo by scanning them with an MRI machine. Each volunteer had no more than five percent of their body tattooed. In addition, their tattoos had a length of 20 centimeters (about eight inches) or shorter. Out of their collective 936 tattoos, 717 tattoos had black ink.

Out of the 330 study participants, only one experienced an adverse effect. This person had several tattoos and had a warm and tight feeling around a wrist tattoo during an MRI. The technologist immediately stopped the MRI when the participant reported this effect. It took less than 24 hours for the feeling to go away and did not require medical help. Another participant felt mild tingling that did not count as an adverse effect. The research team calculated the overall risk of adverse effects as 0.17 to 0.30 percent.

How Do I Ensure a Safe MRI Scan With Tattoos?

If you have tattoos and need an MRI, you can take a few precautions to reduce your risk of side effects. The majority of patients with tattoos should not have any adverse effects, but these steps can help you ensure a successful MRI.

1. Ask Your Tattoo Artist About Their Ink

Adverse tattoo reactions in MRIs seem to have a connection to the metal content in the tattoo’s ink. Tattoo ink can include metals like cobalt and titanium dioxide that add pigment. Some of these metals contain ferrous materials, or materials related to iron, that may react to the magnets in an MRI. Talk to your tattoo artist about the inks they use and their ingredients.
Doctor and Patient Shaking Hands

2. Talk to Your Technologist

You can also let your technologist know about your tattoos before you receive your MRI. They can monitor you for any side effects before, during and after the procedure. When you get your MRI, you can also talk to the technologist at any time to let them know if you feel side effects.

Schedule an MRI Appointment at Health Images

At Health Images, we understand how to work with Colorado patients with special considerations like tattoos. We ensure all of our patients feel safe and comfortable when they receive an MRI scan. Schedule your MRI today by finding a location near you.