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Why do I have to remove my jewelry and piercings before surgery?

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

MRI and jewelry, MRI and piercings,

It's Best to Remove Jewelry Before an MRI

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Question: Why do I have to remove my jewelry and piercings before surgery?
Answer: It may seem like a giant hassle to remove your jewelry and piercings prior to surgery, but there are multiple good reasons for doing so. It isn't that your surgeon doesn't like piercings, or has a personal issue with wedding rings — your surgical team just wants to avoid complications whenever possible.

Many healthcare professionals say, "better safe than sorry," but the reality is some jewelry can get in the way or actually cause harm if left in place during a surgical procedure or imaging study. Is it common for piercings to get in the way of surgery? No, but the risk certainly outweighs the rewards, especially when there are ways to remove a piercing and keep the hole open until the jewelry can be replaced.

By far the easiest thing to do if you are having surgery is to remove all of your jewelry, whether it's standard jewelry, such as rings and necklaces, or piercing jewelry. Plan ahead to have spacers in place of your piercing jewelry, as some types of piercings can close within hours, regardless of how long they've been in place.

Imagining Studies

A great example of a piercing's getting in the way of an imagining study is a tongue piercing. When you go to the dentist to have X-rays of your teeth and jaw, the metal of the piercing actually makes it impossible to see what's behind the jewelry. So an X-ray taken from the left side of your jaw would show the teeth on that side, but the teeth behind the jewelry in your tongue won't be visible on the X-ray. Your dentist could easily miss a damaged tooth on the right side.

Plan on taking your piercings out when you have imaging studies done at the same site as your piercing. For longer studies commonly performed before surgery, such as an MRI or a CT Scan that is done over a large part of your body, you may need to plan on putting a spacer in prior to going to the facility. You can typically obtain spacers from piercing studios, but just make sure they're not made of metal.

For MRIs, plan on removing your jewelry. If this is not possible, let the technologist in charge of the scan know. He should also be notified if you have any metal in your body, such as surgical clips, a pacemaker, or a cochlear implant. In some cases, depending upon the type of metal in your body, a study may need to be postponed or canceled.

Accidental Harm

When you're awake and something catches on your piercing, it's something you would likely notice right away. In fact, you may let out a bit of a scream, depending on the site of the piercing and how hard it is tugged. When you're under anesthesia, you won't notice if your piercing is tugged on, even if it's pulled so hard that the piercing comes out.

Imagine that one of the sterile surgical drapes that's used to cover you during surgery gets caught on one of your piercings: just a gentle tug to remove the drape after the procedure could potentially tear or remove your piercing.

Interfering with Procedures

Jewelry can absolutely get in the way of a procedure. If you're having hand surgery, it just makes sense that your rings and bracelets need to be taken off. The same is true for piercings: if you have nipple piercings, plan on removing them if you're having a surgery on your chest, particularly breast surgery. If you're having abdominal surgery, a belly button piercing will in most cases need to be removed for the duration of the procedure.

Tongue piercings, in particular, can be an issue when having general anesthesia. The anesthesiologist will insert a breathing tube, called an endotracheal tube, at the beginning of the surgery. This tube can get caught on the piercing upon insertion, and if the tongue ring comes out, you can swallow the jewelry or inhale it into your lung.

Swelling After Surgery

Swelling is very common after surgery, especially surgeries where blood and fluid are given, such as coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG). If your rings are snug prior to surgery, swelling can make it impossible to remove them — or if they begin to restrict blood flow, they may need to be cut off of your fingers. It's far easier to remove them prior to surgery, and to leave them at home where they won't be lost.

Help, I Can't Remove My Jewelry Before Surgery

In some cases, the surgeon may allow rings to stay on. For example, if you have a patient with arthritis who hasn't removed her rings in many years — and arthritis in the finger joints makes them impossible to remove — the surgeon may agree to allow them to remain on rather than cutting them off. This is done on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the surgical team, and should be a last resort.

People who have body modification implants or medical implants which are placed under the skin should let their surgeons know the type and location prior to surgery. It's also important to let the technologist performing an imaging study (such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI) know there is an implant in place.

Lost Jewelry

It's very easy for valuables to be lost or stolen in a hospital. If you have items of monetary or sentimental value, do not bring them to the hospital: leave them at home or give them to a trusted loved one for safekeeping.

Sources:

MRI of the Body. Radiology Info.org. Accessed 2013. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=bodymr

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