What Should Be on Your Medical Bracelet?

Medical alert bracelet

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The purpose of medical alert jewelry—identification necklaces and bracelets with medical information inscribed on them—is to provide emergency health care workers with information about any life-threatening conditions you may have in the event you become unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

Medical jewelry has been around since 1953. If you're thinking of getting a bracelet or necklace (or even a tattoo or an app to serve the same purpose), these are some of the most important things to consider:

  • Medical conditions: If your condition can render you unable to communicate with paramedics or emergency room doctors and nurses, and/or could be fatal, put it on your medical jewelry. This includes mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or autism, as well as situations in which someone is non-verbal, deaf, or has any other limitations that may make communicating difficult.
  • Medications you are taking or are allergic to: One of the most important things to have on your ID, preferably at the top if there is more than one condition listed, is if you are taking a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin. This alerts emergency personnel to be aware that you could be bleeding internally if you've been injured. Similarly, if you have a severe allergy to a medication, list it so that it is not administered in an emergency situation. If it could be significant, listing your blood type may also be warranted.
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders: There's only one medical intervention so important that it takes a doctor's order not to perform it: CPR. If you have a do not resuscitate order—an order not to perform CPR if doing so would be necessary to save your life—you should wear something that says just that.
  • If you have transplanted or missing organs: You may be taking immunosuppressant medications, which can make you especially susceptible to infection
  • Instructions: such as "call 911," or the phone number of your emergency contact

Given that space is limited on jewelry, and emergency personnel need to be able to see the information clearly, you will need to prioritize some conditions over others; your doctor can help you with that aspect.

Medical ID items should, ideally, have the medical emblem known as the "Star of Life" that depicts the snake & staff symbol. This will alert responders that you are wearing a form of jewelry that should be checked in an emergency.

Benefits of Medical Jewelry

If you're not sure about whether or not to invest in medical ID jewelry, you may want to begin by thinking about some of the benefits:

  • You are likely to receive quicker treatment when a first responder gets to the scene
  • You're less likely to be misdiagnosed once you are out of immediate danger and taken to a hospital
  • It can be useful for non-medical personnel. The National Institute on Aging, for example, recommends that people with Alzheimer's disease wear a piece of identification noting that in case they wander and get lost; for children with life-threatening allergies, it may be useful to school or camp staff who may not be aware; and it could be helpful for bystander. For example, a person who sees that you have diabetes may know to provide you with orange juice or candy if you seem unwell.
  • It can put things into perspective. If you have a seizure disorder like epilepsy you might find yourself waking up after a seizure in the emergency room or to the face of a paramedic. The first time a person has a seizure, it could be caused by any number of life-threatening conditions. A person with a seizure disorder, on the other hand, might have a few seizures a week that don't require emergency measures; medical jewelry is one way for them to know that you do indeed have a seizure disorder and you probably don't need to be transported to the hospital. In that case, many paramedics, who are often first on the scene, will simply wait for you to wake up from the seizure and then consult you about how to proceed. (In that case, the information on medical jewelry isn't critical for saving your life, but it might save you the expense of being hospitalized unnecessarily.) On the flip side, medical jewelry that says you have a brain tumor could indicate that a seizure is a life-threatening event.

Possible Cons

While many highly reputable organizations are in favor of wearing medical ID jewelry, such as the Centers for Disease Control, there are currently no national guidelines—or any that are approved by a medical association or society—that explicitly support the use of medical jewelry or what it should or shouldn't contain. A 2017 study in the British journal Anaesthesia looked at some of the gray areas and problems surrounding medical jewelry and proposed the creation of national guidelines to eliminate confusion.

Companies that sell the jewelry make suggestions, and consumers are able to put whatever they want on it. Furthermore, health care professionals are under no legal obligation to search for medical jewelry if it is not easily visible.

Abbreviations for common conditions and diseases
Alzheimer's disease ALZ
Type 2 diabetes and on insulin DM2-INSULIN
Atrial fibrillation AFIB
Allergic to sulfa drugs NO SULFA
Kidney transplant recipient KIDNEY TX
You are taking a blood thinner ON BLOOD THINNER

A Word From Verywell

It's important to remember that while it may not hurt to list health conditions on medical jewelry, a trained medical professional will rapidly assess a person's current condition (breathing, consciousness, pulse, etc.) without necessarily taking into account specific and preexisting conditions. For instance, if an asthmatic person needs emergency assistance, but the medical professional is unaware of their asthma, respiratory distress will still be evident and treated according to protocol. If you are interested in wearing medical ID jewelry, confer with your doctor to get their opinion on whether it's a good idea, or not, and what information you should include. Finally, it's important to update medical alert information if there is a significant change in your medical needs.

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Article Sources

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  1. Rahman S, Walker D, Sultan P. Medical identification or alert jewellery: an opportunity to save lives or an unreliable hindrance?. Anaesthesia. 2017;72(9):1139-1145. doi:10.1111/anae.13958

  2. MedlinePlus. Do-not-resuscitate order. Updated February 18, 2018.

  3. MedlinePlus. Seizures. Updated February 27, 2017.

  4. Sizoo EM, Braam L, Postma TJ, et al. Symptoms and problems in the end-of-life phase of high-grade glioma patients. Neuro-oncology. 2010;12(11):1162-6. doi:10.1093/neuonc/nop045

  5. Centers for Disease Control. Center for Preparedness and Response: ID Bracelet. https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/socialmedia/npm2019/personalneeds/personalneedsidbracelet.htm

  6. Rahman S, Walker D, Sultan P. Medical identification or alert jewellery: an opportunity to save lives or an unreliable hindrance?. Anaesthesia. 2017;72(9):1139-1145. doi:10.1111/anae.13958)

  7. https://www.americanmedical-id.com/faq