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Body piercing and risk behaviour in adolescents

Survey
Results
Medical problems with piercing
Comment

Bandolier 109 examined some of the issues surrounding body piercing and body art. Body piercing was present in 42% of men and 60% of women undergraduates. Complications were reported in 17% of piercings, the most common being bacterial infections (9%), bleeding (4%) and local trauma (3%).

A new survey of piercing in younger adolescents [1] shows a lower incidence, and relates piercing to high-risk behaviour.

Survey

The survey was part of a US longitudinal study of adolescent health in which a random school-based sample was invited to complete two surveys at home in 1995 and 1996. The age range was 13-18 years, and was representative of US teenagers. Body piercing was related to sociodemographic factors, including family background and place of residence.

Results

There were 4,337 completed surveys. Piercing other than at the ear occurred in 4% overall, but was higher in girls (7.1%) than boys (1.5%), and was lower in 13-15 year olds (2.7%) than 16-18 year olds (5.6%). There were no differences according to ethnicity, residence or family circumstance.

Body piercing was significantly related to a range of high-risk behaviours (Figure 1). These included sexual intercourse, substance abuse, truancy and running away from home, and, importantly, suicide ideation and attempts. Suicide ideation and attempts were found in 26% and 13% of adolescents with body piercing.



Figure 1: Body piercing and high risk behaviour in US adolescents





Medical problems with piercing

Two reviews [2, 3] have looked at serious medical problems with body piercing.

A systematic review [2] examines complications of nipple piercing. Ten cases were found, nine published since 1999. Seven were in women and three in men, with an age range of 15 to 60 years. The main comments were:

A second review [3] examines eight published case reports of infective endocarditis associated with piercing of tongue (3), ear (2), and nipple, nose and navel. In five of these surgery was recommended, mainly for removal of an aortic valve. Two of these five did not return for treatment.

Comment

Body piercing is risky in itself, as well as being a marker for higher risk behaviours. The US adolescent study has the demerit of possibly being behind the times, as over the nine years since it started collecting data piercing has become much more common.

References:

  1. TA Roberts et al. Body piercing and high-risk behaviour in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 2004 34: 224-229.
  2. VR Jacobs et al. Mastitis nonpuerperalis after nipple piercing: time to act. International Journal of Fertility 2003 48: 226-231.
  3. BC Millar, JE Moore. Antibiotic prophylaxis, body piercing and infective endocarditis. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy 2004 53: 123-126.

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