Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 00:02 UK

Warnings over body piercing boom

Belly-button piercing
Belly-button piercings are common among young women

Problems over botched body piercings could be a "substantial burden" on the NHS in the near future, a study says.

The British Medical Journal study found one in 10 people - and nearly half of all younger women - had a body piercing other than on the earlobe.

Just over a quarter of people reported complications, including swelling, infection and bleeding.

Many avoided specialist clinics, adding to the risk by piercing themselves or trusting friends or relatives.

Non-specialist piercings could also mean hepatitis infection, experts said.

There is a message here for the health service, that body piercing is really very common
Dr Angie Bone
Health Protection Agency

Despite the increasing popularity of body piercing in recent years, these are the first firm figures showing the extent of the boom.

The joint study between the Health Protection Agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asked a sample of more than 10,000 people aged 16 and over in England whether they had been pierced somewhere other than the earlobe, and if they had suffered any complications as a result.

They found approximately 10% had some sort of body piercing, with women and younger people most likely to have one.

Half of those who had experienced complications said the problems were bad enough to seek further help, and a small number required hospitalisation.

Four out of five piercings were carried out at specialist shops, which are licensed and inspected by the local authority, and complications were less likely.

A small number of those surveyed, however, admitted that they had carried out piercings of the tongue, lips and genitals without official expert help - 9% of tongue piercings were carried out this way.

10 months to heal

Dr Angie Bone, one of the research authors, said she had been surprised by the finding that 46% of 16-to-24-year-old girls had a body piercing, and said that if this generation, and following generations, continued this way, it might be a problem for the NHS.

She said: "There is a message here for the health service that body piercing is really very common and, if it remains fashionable, in the near future one in two women will have a body piercing and there will be more complications."

Dr Bone said many people were unaware of the potentially serious nature of a piercing and stressed the importance of using a specialist clinic.

"I was surprised to find, for example, that a navel piercing can take up to 10 months to heal."

Another potential risk from piercings, especially those carried out abroad or away from regulated clinics, comes from blood-borne viruses.

A spokesman for the British Liver Trust, which offers advice on avoiding hepatitis infection, said: "It is important to remember the long-term problems that can occur, particularly if you get a piercing from a non-specialist.

"You put yourself at a high risk of contracting hepatitis B or C, both of which are serious, life-threatening conditions which can be fatal.

"You may not know you have contracted the virus until later on in life when the damage has already begun."

Belly stud 'almost killed teen'
01 Oct 07 |  South East Wales
Lip piercing death 'misadventure'
11 Nov 05 |  South Yorkshire

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