To Ink or Not to Ink

The question of branding a diabetes ID.

Karen HargraveBy Karen Hargrave-Nykaza

The topic of getting a tattoo to identify someone as a person with diabetes got a strong reaction from my son when I brought it up. Joel felt like there is no way he would ever choose a permanent form of identification for his diabetes ID. As important as it is to wear one, he feels very strongly about needing to be able to fit in as well. And at 14, I wouldn't expect that there will be a time in his life when fitting in will be more important to him than it is right now.


With forms of identification like a necklace or bracelet, you can tuck them in your shirt or sleeve when you want more privacy. You don't have that option with a tattooed diabetes ID. And while we don't allow Joel to keep his diabetes a secret from his peers, we don't insist that every person he is with be aware of it either. There is too much about diabetes that he can't and won't have control over, this is a form of control that we allow him.

I think I can really understand wanting the option of more privacy at times. There also has to be some serious psychological implications of looking at "diabetic" branded on your skin every day for a person with diabetes of any age. It seems that most people with diabetes feel labeled enough by having the disease already. Choosing to permanently brand your own skin with that label is a serious step.

When my son was younger we attended a diabetes education weekend. We met a woman whose son was the age Joel is now, and she was already considering having him tattooed with a diabetes ID. He was going through a typical teenage rebellion and she was struggling to get him to agree to wear a diabetes necklace or bracelet. She was concerned that she couldn't monitor him wearing ID when she was not with him, and that eventually he would have an emergency and would not get the medical attention he needed.

As much as I totally understood and agreed with her concerns, I would not be willing to take such a drastic step at such a young age and risk ostracizing my son further from teens who do not have diabetes. Does he really need something else to make him feel like he is not "normal?"

Of course, an adult making the decision to get a tattoo that tells the world they have diabetes is another story. An adult has most likely come to terms with the lack of privacy that is needed to ensure their safety in a way that a teenager may not have. And making that decision is certainly an option for an adult who feels ready to take that step.

Maybe taking such a permanent step is empowering. Some people with diabetes may feel better about taking control over making sure the people around them know they have the disease. But that may also be a step that many are not ready to take.

Read more of Karen Hargrave's columns here.

dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 29, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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