Have You Heard of Breast Implant Illness?
Perhaps not, because at this time it is not an official medical diagnosis. This may change in the near future, however. Over the past several years, there has been an increase in complaints from individuals who have undergone reconstructive and cosmetic breast implant surgery. The increase in complaints may be related to awareness of the condition through communication on social media platforms. These complaints include a cluster of often unrelated and unexplained symptoms that appear autoimmune in nature. Some of the symptoms include:
myalgia/ joint pains
rashes and skin conditions
I have learned of this illness first hand from a very good friend of mine. My dear friend desired breast implants for many years believing these implants would give her more confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has happened. She has had her implants in for four years and will be getting a surgical explant next month. Several months after getting her breast implants, my friend began experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains. She has also experienced severe weakness, hair loss, dry mouth, sleep disturbances, anxiety, body aches, and more. She has been to her PCP, specialists, and to the ER multiple times. All of her tests have come back unremarkable, yet her symptoms persist. At this point, I decided to do my own research and see what information I could find on this condition.
Research and Information
Currently, there are hundreds of support groups for “Breast Implant Illness.” Some of these groups have as many as 86,000 or more members. Because of the outcry for help, the FDA and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons are in the process of developing new studies to gain a better understanding of these vague symptoms which appear to be potentially related to breast implants of all types.
Despite the multitude of support groups developed for individuals who believe they are experiencing abnormal symptoms related to their breast implants, there are millions of people who have breast implant surgery and have no problems, at all. It is noted that there may be a group of people at higher risk for developing Breast Implant Illness. Individuals who have a personal history or family history of allergies or autoimmune diseases may be at higher risk for developing unwelcomed symptoms post-implant surgery. One study found that women with silicone implants had higher IgE levels than women without silicone breast implants. Another study indicated that high-risk women experienced a modulation of key cytokines which may be responsible for the inflammatory reaction.
To date, there is no commonly used test(s) or diagnostic criteria specifically utilized for Breast Implant Illness. Most patients present to plastic surgeons once all other medical diagnoses or conditions have been ruled out. Plastic surgeons will generally do their own testing, as well. When there is no underlying condition found, breast explant surgery is often proposed.
Deciding to have a breast explant is a major decision, but for many patients, it is a decision that has given them their lives back. Several studies indicate that the majority of patients who chose to undergo breast explant surgery see a decrease in severity or resolution of symptoms (though not all).
Despite no concrete evidence at this time that breast implants cause autoimmune like reactions in individuals, it is clear that more testing is needed. Breast augmentation already comes with known risks such as: infection, scar tissue development, rupture and deflation, breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, and more. It is possible that Breast Implant Illness will be added to this list in the upcoming years.
For providers, it is important to keep this information in mind when a patient with a history of breast implants presents with unexplained symptoms and unremarkable test results.
For patients, choosing to have breast augmentation surgery is a major decision and all risks and potential side effects should be carefully reviewed before proceeding. Health and well-being should not be taken for granted and should always be at the forefront of any decision making.
American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Breast Implant Illness - Frequently Asked Questions/Talking Points. August 2019.
Maijers MC et al. Women with silicone breasts implants and unexplained symptoms
What Is Breast Implant Illness?/ (2020, February 25).