More than a quarter of people who have body piercing suffer complications, the first medical study of the trend said today.

The warning comes after research published in the British Medical Journal estimated that one in 10 adults in England have piercings somewhere other than their earlobes.

More than a quarter (28%) have experienced complications while 13% had serious problems, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Almost one in 100 piercings among the 16 to 24 age group led to them being admitted to hospital. In this group, 31% of piercings resulted in complications, with half of those requiring medical attention.

Self-piercings and those not carried out by a specialist were more likely to require medical attention.

The authors warned that piercing could place a burden on the NHS. They said: "If piercing remains fashionable, almost half the female population might eventually have had a body piercing at a site other than the earlobe.

"Even if serious complications are rare, the popularity of the practice and the fact that complications can occur long after the actual piercing, might place a considerable burden on health services for many years."

One of the authors, Dr Fortune Ncube, a consultant epidemiologist at the HPA, said: "It is vital that anyone considering a piercing ensures that they go to a reputable piercer.

"Much of the advice is common sense - don't try to do it yourself, make sure that you know enough about the procedure as well as the skills and experience of the piercer and make sure the environment is clean and hygienic. Your piercer should tell you how to look after the piercing."

The study involved 10,503 adults aged 16 or over. A total of 1,049 had a piercing, with 1,943 piercings in total. Seven people said they had at least 10 piercings while women were around three times more likely to have a piercing than men.

Nearly half the women aged 16 to 24 had a piercing and younger people and those from lower social classes were far more likely to have them. The most popular places were the belly button (33%), nose (19%), the ear (13%), tongue and nipple (both 9%), eyebrow (8%), lip (4%), genitals (2%).

Women were most likely to have their navel pierced, although this was among the least popular piercing among men. In contrast, nipple piercing was most popular among men but one of the least popular among women. Genital piercing was twice as popular among men as women although it was still uncommon.

The most common problems reported in the 16 to 24 age group were swelling, infection and bleeding. Problems were most likely to be reported with tongue piercings (50%), genitals (45%) and nipple (38%). Help was most likely to be sought for piercings of the genitals (45%), followed by the nipple (25%) and tongue (24%).

There have been no reported cases of contracting a blood borne virus, such as Hepatitis B and C or HIV, through body piercing in the UK. However, this has been seen in other countries and the report warned this risk remains a cause of concern.

[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]