Breast implant illness is a term used by some physicians for a wide array of symptoms that affect people with breast implants. There isn’t a lot of formal research on this topic, but organizations like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery have made it a research priority over the past few years.
With time, we should have a better picture of what this condition is and how it impacts people with breast implants.
What Are Breast Implants?
Breast implants come in many forms. They’re typically some type of silicone gel or saline-filled inserts. These inserts are surgically implanted into your breasts or underneath your chest muscles.
Breast implants are one of the most common types of plastic surgery done for cosmetic purposes. Over 35 million people worldwide have breast plants. In the U.S. there are currently around 3.5 million people with breast implants, and 400,000 people get them each year.
They come in a variety of shapes and textures, including implants with:
- Smooth surfaces
- Textured surfaces
- Round shapes
- Teardrop shapes
People may want breast implants for many different reasons, such as:
- A follow-up to amastectomy. A mastectomy is a surgery that removes breast tissue. It’s typically done to treat cancer and other serious medical conditions.
- Gender affirmation. Breasts can be an important part of your gender identity.
- Self-esteem. Breast implants can help improve the body image of some individuals.
- Correction of natural asymmetries. Many peoples’ breasts are uneven in size, but the difference is sometimes extreme. Surgery can balance your breasts.
Is Breast Implant Illness Real?
Breast implant illness is not a formal medical diagnosis. Instead, it’s a description of a wide variety of symptoms that can develop in people with breast implants. It can develop in people with any type of breast implant.
The condition goes by a number of other names, including:
- Autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA)
- Breast implant disease
- Silicone implant illness
Research is currently underway so we can learn more about this condition. Breast implant illness may become an official diagnosis within the next few years.
Who Can Get Breast Implant Illness?
Anyone who has breast implants can develop breast implant illness. There’s some evidence that people with a personal or family history of autoimmune problems are more at risk than others. Other conditions that may put you at risk include a history of:
Is There a Breast Implant Illness Test?
At present, there isn’t a formal test or diagnostic procedure that can positively identify breast implant illness. Instead, your doctor will first rule out other conditions, like arthritis and Lyme disease.
Breast implant illness can coincide with an autoimmune diagnosis, such as:
All of these conditions are diagnosed in unique ways. If you’ve already been diagnosed with one of these conditions, you may want to see a plastic surgeon to see if some of your symptoms are connected to breast implant illness.
How Common Is Breast Implant Illness?
We need more research to understand the prevalence of this condition in people with breast implants. As awareness of this condition grows, more people are coming to their doctor with symptoms of breast implant illness.
What Causes Breast Implant Illness?
The exact cause of breast implant illness is unknown. Some medical experts suspect that the symptoms are caused by the immune system reacting negatively to the implants. The response could potentially be caused by the silicone itself — which is found in all types of implants available today.
The symptoms could also be part of an inflammatory response or caused by an infection. Occasionally, bacteria on the implant surface form a biofilm within your breast. This can cause an infection within your tissues.
Overall, we need more research to determine the exact causes of breast implant illness.
What Are Breast Implant Illness Symptoms?
The symptoms of breast implant illness can affect your entire body. They tend to vary from person to person. Over 50 different symptoms have been reported by people with breast implant illness.
In general, symptoms can resemble auto-immune and inflammatory diseases. They can impact your mental abilities, musculoskeletal system, and your entire body.
Common symptoms include:
- Joint and muscle pain
- Muscle weakness
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic pain
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Breathing problems
- Hair loss
- Dry mouth
- Dry eyes
Symptoms can start at any time after you get your implants. They may appear immediately or take years to develop.
What Are Breast Implant Illness Treatments?
The main form of treatment for breast implant illness is surgical removal of the implants. The removal should include both the implant and surrounding scar tissue. This can be done at the same time, a procedure called an en bloc capsulectomy. Alternatively, the implant and scar tissue can be removed separately in a complete removal surgery.
In general, incisions are made either under the fold of your breast or in the area surrounding your nipple. The appropriate parts are removed, and your skin is closed with adhesives, stitches, or tape.
Some people choose to get a different type of implant to replace the one they’ve had removed, but keep in mind that these symptoms can develop with all types of implants that are used today. This means that your symptoms could come back if you replace your implant with a new one.
If you’ve also been diagnosed with an underlying autoimmune condition, then your doctor will need to develop a specific treatment plan for this disorder.
What Is the Prognosis for Breast Implant Illness?
The majority of people report improvements in their symptoms after their implants are removed. Sometimes, people are entirely cured. Improvements usually occur within the first three months after surgery.
We need more data to truly understand how effective implant removal is at improving people’s symptoms, though. Two small studies have been done in the Netherlands and by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
The study looked at 80 females with silicone gel-filled implants. Of these participants, 69 percent showed improved symptoms after their implants were removed. The other study looked at 100 females. Researchers found that 89 percent showed improvements after surgery.
The symptoms that the surgery improved included:
- Cognitive problems
- Burning pain in their chest areas
- Joint pain
- Dry eyes
When Should You See Your Doctor?
Contact your doctor or plastic surgeon if you have any concerns about your implants or believe that an implant has burst. You should also contact your doctor if you’ve recently developed some of the symptoms listed above, particularly those that correspond to an auto-immune condition, like chronic fatigue.
Not all plastic surgeons are familiar with breast implant illness. Make sure that you find a doctor that you trust and takes your concerns seriously.