Breast implants have become increasingly popular for cosmetic and reconstructive purposes. Some women experience new symptoms after getting breast implants, and attribute these changes to their implants. Although the relationship between breast implants and physical illness is not completely understood, a phenomenon known as Breast Implant Illness (BII) has emerged online among women sharing their situation with others, seeking information, and hoping for relief. Women want to know what breast implant illness is, and about BII symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and prevention.
What is Breast Implant Illness?
BII is a term used to describe a constellation of symptoms that some women have experienced after getting breast implants. There is no fixed set of findings, and the presentation varies widely. Commonly reported changes are fatigue, joint pain, “brain fog,” memory loss, skin rashes, hair loss, anxiety, depression, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, and digestive issues. Although the exact cause of BII is unknown, based on current and historical data, Dr. Laverson believes if BII exists as a distinct disease entity, it may be linked to the body’s immune response to microbial antigens around breast implants and in the breast implant capsule. Silicone is extremely biocompatible, is a component of many implantable devices, and because silicone is not a protein or biomolecule in and of itself is not antigenic (does not stimulate an immune response). Because there is not a uniform clinical presentation of breast implant illness, because symptoms associated with BII are common among adult men and women, and because there is no available laboratory test to confirm BII, the existence of breast implant illness as a distinct disease entity is controversial among plastic surgeons, rheumatologists, and among the general medical community. Breast implant Illness symptoms are often similar to fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other rheumatologic, allergic, and auto-immune conditions.
Symptoms of Breast Implant Illness
When women present with the possibility of BII, generally they complain about some combination of worsening fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches, brain fog, memory loss, skin rashes, hair loss, anxiety, depression, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, headaches, and digestive problems. Often, these patients have reported their malaise to another physician such as their primary care doctor or OB-Gyn, but laboratory findings and X-rays are within normal limits. Symptoms associated with BII may indicate many other conditions, some serious, so physician consultation is strongly advised if such problems arise with or without breast implants.
Diagnosing Breast Implant Illness
Breast Implant Illness is a diagnosis of exclusion, i.e., it may be considered if adverse symptoms develop some time after breast augmentation and there is no other apparent source or cause. The diagnosis can only be confirmed if adverse symptoms completely resolve after breast implant removal. Many online posts advise that the scar capsule around breast implants also be removed. Dr. Steve Laverson agrees with this recommendation if the “peri-prosthetic” (around the implant) capsule is thick enough to surgically remove because such capsules often contain microbial antigens which may be stimulating the immune system. However, capsulectomy (surgical removal of the breast implant capsule) may not be critically important because after silicone implant removal, immune cells and antibodies are much more effective at isolating and neutralizing foreign antigens. Definitive diagnosis of BII may be impossible because symptoms are nonspecific and can be caused by many other conditions.
Treatment for Breast Implant Illness
The only known cure for BII is to remove breast implants with or without the surrounding scar capsule. Some women report feeling better immediately after implants are removed. Relief may be temporary or long lasting. Some women recover toward better health over a longer period of time. For some others, health problems persist even after breast implant removal, and may never have a definitive diagnosis, or a known cause of their health problems. In such cases, symptomatic treatment is advised and further investigation of hormone levels with attempts to mitigate symptoms creatively and with special attention.
After removing breast implants, “deflated” breasts may or may not recover their natural feminine beauty. If resulting breasts are aesthetically and/or psychologically problematic, Dr. Laverson recommends professional consultation and individualized recommendations that support every facet of female physical and mental health, well being, and quality of life. Before breast implant removal, it is important to understand the likely aesthetic consequences so each woman knows in advance what to expect.
Prevention of Breast Implant Illness with Dr.Laverson
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent BII, there are some possible ways to reduce risk:
- Choose a qualified and experienced surgeon: It is important to choose a surgeon who is experienced in performing breast implant surgery and can explain his or her philosophy, approach, and management of BII should it occur. Ask for references, read reviews, and check to see if your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
- Use FDA approved breast implants: Ask your surgeon about the type of prostheses you will get, and learn about the warranty associated with the implants you will have. Choose high-quality implants from reputable manufacturers.
- Regular check-ups: Monthly breast self examination, mammograms as recommended, and follow up with your doctor to monitor the condition of your implants and changes in your health are advised. Follow-up appointments with your surgeon after the initial surgery can also help to ensure that your implants are functioning properly and to catch any potential problems early on.
- Be aware of the symptoms: Knowing the symptoms of BII and being vigilant about any changes in your health can help you to catch the condition early and seek treatment if necessary.
Consultation for Breast Implant Illness
Breast Implant Illness may be a real condition that affects some women who have breast implants. If you are experiencing new symptoms since your breast augmentation procedure, consultation with your doctor is recommended. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast implant associated symptoms, choosing a qualified and experienced surgeon and having regular check-ups can mitigate related morbidity.
If you are considering breast implant surgery or experiencing any symptoms related to BII, we recommend consulting a board-certified plastic surgeon with expertise in breast implant surgery. At Feel Beautiful Plastic Surgery, patient safety and quality of life are always the highest priority. Even if implants should be removed, augmentation by fat transfer and breast lift (mastopexy) are excellent alternatives and adjunct aesthetic solutions. Contact us at 858-295-4001 or HERE to schedule a consultation and learn more about your options.