Tattoo trouble: How one painted lady ended up in the ER

A 37-year-old woman suffered from various symptoms for two years, until one doctor realized it was because of the tattoos on her body.

SACRED GEOMETRY tattoo, by artist Yasmine Bergner. (photo credit: YASMINE BERGNER)
SACRED GEOMETRY tattoo, by artist Yasmine Bergner.
(photo credit: YASMINE BERGNER)

Moran, a perfectly healthy woman, suffered for two years from weakness and dizziness, and recently also felt that her sight was deteriorating in one eye.  She went to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center where a doctor checked her and immediately realized that Moran’s strange symptoms were related to her tattoos.  Here are the details. 

Moran Yona, 37, from Tel Aviv, leads a healthy lifestyle and regularly does CrossFit training. 

Two years ago, she began to suffer from dizziness during exercise, had difficulty breathing and general weakness that made it hard for her to continue working out, but medical tests were inconclusive. 

Recently, when these symptoms were also accompanied by a decrease in left eye function without any eye diseases or other illnesses in her medical history, her doctor recommended that she go to Sourasky. This was a turning point in Moran's story.

Dr. Zohar Habot-Wilner, director of the uveitis clinic at the Sourasky Ophthalmology Department, examined Moran's eyes and found normal vision in the right eye but poor vision in the left. An exam revealed intraocular inflammation (uveitis) in both eyes that involved the anterior segment. Also, the doctor noted that there was swelling of the blood vessels in the retina in both eyes, as well as edema of the center of the retina in the left eye. That is, there was intraocular inflammation that involved all sections of the eye in both eyes. 

At the same time as the eye exam, Habot-Wilner looked at the patient and noticed many tattoos on her body. 

Israelis celebrate body art at the 2019 Israel Tattoo Convention (Credit: Hagay Hacohen)Israelis celebrate body art at the 2019 Israel Tattoo Convention (Credit: Hagay Hacohen)

"While examining her I saw many tattoos, some large, scattered over many parts of her body, very beautiful and vibrant, definitely a colorful and special look," she said. The doctor said that when she saw the tattoos she immediately connected things and realized that there was possibly inflammation in the body that developed when Moran was tattooed, and due to this disease, intraocular inflammation developed.

Habot-Wilner investigated, and discovered that several years ago Moran suffered from a skin infection around one tattoo. 

"This finding is a risk factor for the development of inflammatory disease in the body secondary to tattoos," she explained. 

And, in the past year, dizziness and general weakness during exercise developed - symptoms of inflammation.

Moran was admitted for testing to confirm the suspicion that she had an inflammatory disease and to check if other systems besides her eyes were affected. She was hospitalized in the ophthalmology department for a series of blood tests and exams by specialists in various departments (internal medicine, dermatology, pulmonary and cardiology). Other tests included a chest X-ray and CT, plus output and function of her heart and lungs. Moran was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that may involve several systems in the body and in her case included the eyes, lungs and heart.

Despite the alarming findings, with the help of anti-inflammatory treatment that included steroidal eye drops, steroid injections into the eye, and prednisone which is steroid pills, her condition improved significantly, and now all the symptoms are gone.

Don’t ignore symptoms!.Habot-Wilner stated that tattoos are a beautiful and special type of adornment but one must look for problems that may occur when there are many tattoos on the body, and especially when they’re very close and diffuse. 

If there’s inflammation around a tattoo, you must see a dermatologist, she added. 

Habot-Wilner stressed that if you have new symptoms such as decreased vision, weakness, shortness of breath, difficulty exercising, etc. consult an ophthalmologist and family doctor, and they will investigate. It’s important to contact them as soon as possible to try to detect a general inflammatory disease in the body which is a reaction to tattoos.