Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to obtain a rhythm strip for your EKG tattoo

Many people are interested in obtaining accurate EKG samples for their tattoos. The problem is, it takes a lot of time and energy to read and learn about EKG rhythms and proper waveforms in order to be able to know if what you're looking at is normal.

Some people want to obtain a strip of their, or a loved one's, arrhythmia, like the junctional bigeminy looking thing above. I like this concept, because the tattoo has unique meaning to the recipient. I recently received a consulting email from a pharmacologist/EMT who wants to get a tattoo showcasing his Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. How fun and educational is that!

So for those of you wishing to get an EKG tattoo that doesn't look like just a bunch of squiggly lines, as if your tattoo artist was going through alcohol withdrawals, I have assembled a list of tips for you.

  1. Obtain an actual rhythm tracing if you can. Providing a real tracing to your tattoo artist will help them to be more accurate than giving them a picture you printed off the internet or drew yourself. If needed, you can use a copy machine to enlarge the rhythm strip, since these often print out quite small (unless the person helping you knows how to enlarge the wave on the monitor itself). Most ambulance agencies or fire departments with paramedic level capabilities would be happy to help you out if you drop by and explain what you're doing. You could even offer to wash their truck for them in return, if you feel so inclined.

    If you are attempting to get a printout of your or a loved one's arrhythmia, and stopping by an EMS station somewhere isn't an option for you, you are well within your rights to request a small rhythm strip printout while at the hospital or a doctor's office. Most likely the nurse will run you off a strip without even asking why. If they do ask questions, don't be afraid to let them know it's for a tattoo. They will either a. give you some pointers, or b. not care anyway. 

    If the hospital visit was in the past, you can still request to view your or your minor child's hospital records. This avenue might take some extra time and paperwork, but they are your records and you are entitled to view them.
  2. Make sure the isoelectric line is calm, and free of artifact. 
    You'll want your isoelectric line to be mostly flat, with an exception for certain arrhythmias that would not have this feature (atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, ventricular fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia). If in doubt, email me and I'll let you know if your EKG should or shouldn't have a flat baseline. Below are several examples of so called "artifact" which caused the printouts to look screwy.
  3. Make sure you're looking at a rhythm strip and not a 12-lead. The person helping you obtain the strip will know what this means. A rhythm strip is just one long strip of the same lead, similar to the picture at the top of this blog. It usually requires three or four wires attached with stickers to your shoulders and sides, or on your limbs. A 12-lead EKG requires more wires to be placed on the front and side of the chest, and the print out shows multiple leads mashed together on one page, such as this:

    The 12-lead gives your health care provider a more thorough view of your heart's activity than the simple three or four lead. You might be going for the 12-lead look.. that's up to you. Just know what you're doing before you make it permanent. 

  4. Stress to your tattoo artist the dire importance of sticking to the plan. This not the time for your artist to go all free hand and be creative. These wave forms must adhere to strict shapes and sizes in order to look correct. If your tattoo artist is not willing to play ball, then they can't have your business. It's your body, and if your tattoo artist sucks at their job then you are the one stuck with their crappy tattoo on your skin forever.
  5. Read a book. The very best book to read in order to gain a basic understanding of EKGs fast is called Rapid Interpretation of EKGs by Dr. Dale Dubin. You will know more about EKGs after 10 minutes of reading this book than most nursing students do upon graduating. I wish I were exaggerating. This skill is just not commonly taught in nursing schools and I don't know why.

    I have provided links for the most current version (left), and an older version (right). The older fifth edition is cheaper and is most likely just fine for tattooing purposes.


  6. Talk to a knowledgeable health care provider, or email me for free advice. My email address is healthcaretattoos@gmail.com. When in doubt, please email me your EKG sketches, printouts, or questions, and I will do my best to guide you toward an accurate appearing EKG tattoo. There are many other people out there who are in-the-know and willing to help you out with this too. 

    The bottom line is, do your homework before you make a bad decision that will be with you forever!  I, and many others, are here to help. Don't get a tattoo you'll regret! Good luck in your search.


  1. Great job with the article Drew!


  2. what if you do have a 12-lead? Do you not recommend getting a tattoo from this??

    1. I now have an article addressing that here: http://stupidheartrhythms.blogspot.com/2018/04/which-part-of-my-12-lead-ekg-should-i.html


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...