Should You Have a Medical Alert Bracelet or Necklace?

by Jane Ashley

Have you ever considered whether you, as a cancer patient, should have a medical alert bracelet or necklace? The answer is not always clear – for some people, it’s a good decision while for others, your diagnosis is probably not a compelling reason to have medical alert jewelry.

Medical Alert Symbol

What is medical alert jewelry and how does it work?

Medical alert jewelry is just what it says – it alerts EMTs and emergency room personnel that you have a medical condition that could impact your treatment, when you are unconscious and/or unable to communicate clearly.

Did you know that first responders, EMTs and emergency room personnel are trained to look for medical alert information? Other places that emergency personnel check include:

Front door. Vial of Life program where a sticker on your front door alerts medical personnel that you have a sealed container in your refrigerator containing important medical information.

Refrigerator. Many people post a paper with important medical information on their refrigerator door using a magnet. EMTs sometimes check the refrigerator if a person is unconscious to see if there is insulin in the refrigerator indicating that an unconscious patient is a diabetic and may have very low blood sugar causing their unconsciousness or confusion.

Purse or wallet. If you have an implanted medical device like a pacemaker, port or artificial knee, you probably have an ID card with that information. Always carry those ID cards in your wallet.

Cellphone. Many people put an ICE (In Case of Emergency) notation beside their emergency contact’s name. If your phone is an Android, there is an app for Emergency Information.

Medical conditions that might signal a medical alert bracelet is a good choice for you.

Having cancer, in and of itself, is not a sufficient reason to have a medical alert bracelet. However, some of the side effects or late effects of cancer treatment might trigger a need for a medical alert bracelet. Here are some of these situations that you might not have thought about.

1. Lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling on an arm or leg (occasionally both, but usually just one) due to the removal of lymph nodes or radiation to lymph nodes during cancer treatment. Breast cancer survivors may develop lymphedema after radiation or a radical mastectomy. Lower-body lymphedema is associated with colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer if many lymph nodes were removed by surgery or damaged by radiation. Patients are advised to avoid having blood drawn from the affected extremity or for it to be used for a blood pressure cuff or for injections. A free, brightly colored alert band can be ordered before having medical procedures, but many patients select a medical alert bracelet for full-time wear.

2. Blood Thinners. Blood clots are common among cancer patients; about 20 percent of all blood clots are seen in cancer patients. Under normal circumstances, there is a balance between pro-clotting and anti-clotting activity. Cancer unbalances the scale, and the cancer patient is more prone to clots. Then throw in that cancer treatment makes more patients more sedentary, and you become more at risk for clots. Cancer patients who are on blood thinners, whether by injections or by pills, should have a medical alert bracelet.

3. Diabetes. Some patients develop a syndrome called treatment-induced diabetes, precipitated by the steroids given to limit side effects, radiation or by certain chemotherapy drugs. Patients with colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer or liver cancer are more likely to develop either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Diabetics should always wear a medical alert bracelet – patients with extremely low blood sugar may appear confused, weak or even intoxicated and may not receive the medical help they need.


4. Dialysis. Renal failure is rare in cancer patients. But it does happen. Anyone who is on dialysis should always wear a medical alert bracelet.

5. Allergy to Contrast Dye. Many people don’t realize that they are allergic to the contrast dye used for x-rays or CT scans until they suffer a life-threatening allergy. Or patients may develop an allergy, usually to the iodine used in the dye, after numerous scans. Once you know that you are allergic to contrast dye, it would be wise to wear a medical alert bracelet in the event you were unconscious and had to be hospitalized.

6. Allergy to Drugs. Drug allergies can be life-threatening. If you’re allergic to penicillin, specific pain medications or other drugs, a medical alert bracelet can be a life-saver.

7. DNR Order. Many people with advance directives also include a DNR order. State laws vary, but in general, emergency personnel who find see a DNR on a medical alert bracelet honor the DRN. MedicAlert is the authorized provider of DNR bracelets in 25 states.

8. Caregiver. If you are a caregiver to a person who is home-bound and/or bedridden or who suffers from dementia, what would happen to your loved one if you were in a serious wreck? This might not be a situation you’d think about, but a medical alert bracelet would get your loved one the help they need.

Allergy To Contrast Dye

Bracelet or Necklace?

Either format is readily checked by EMS personnel and the emergency room staff. Bracelets seem to be the most common format, but some employers prohibit bracelets in their facilities. Choose either format with confidence.

How do I choose a company?

If you have a simple drug allergy or allergy to contrast dye, then a simple bracelet or necklace is all that you need. But if you live alone or you have a complex medical condition in addition to cancer, you may want to choose a service that provides storage of your medical history that can be accessed by medical personnel by calling a toll-free number.

Medical alert bracelets or necklaces provide extra peace of mind and come in a variety of formats and price points. They could be a life-saver if you are in an accident, collapse or experience a seizure in a public place, or a neighbor requests a wellness check for you and discovers you unconscious in your home.

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