Breast Implant Illness, Real or Not?

In the past year or so, in particular with social media, there have been a number of posts and concerns about a “breast implant illness.” The complaints of aches and pains, tiredness, etc., are exactly like the complaints at the time of the breast implant litigation in the early 1990s. Since then, the breast implant has become the most studied medical device in history, with many tens of thousands of women studied regarding safety and any problems encountered.

There is no evidence that there is any specific disease process as described by those promoting breast implant illness. The FDA had a hearing recently in which testimony was provided by those complaining of breast implant illness, also women who have breast implants without complaint, and plastic surgeons, along with other specialties. The major plastic surgery societies are organizing further studies with the encouragement of the FDA.

The level of hysteria that has occurred in social media is concerning because of the fear it generates among women who have implants. I have had a few of my breast augmentation patients come to my office here in Houston asking if breast implants were causing their various problems. One complained of aches and pains, and I hopefully tactfully pointed out that since her augmentation many years ago, we had both aged and I was having many of the same aches and pains! A couple of other patients asked if their implants were causing other types of problems, and I referred to the extensive data that there is no link known with implants and those disease processes. One currently studied and not related issue is something known as ALCL, which is a rare type of cancer that has occurred in some women with textured breast implants. I have never used textured implants, so if you are my patient, this does not apply to you. Even patients from other surgeons who have textured implants, the incidence of ALCL is extremely low and there is no recommendation for implant removal in a woman who doesn’t have any signs of this rare cancer. This is being extensively studied in plastic surgery research.

The problem that has arisen with claims of breast implant illness is that they don’t seem to follow any specific complaint process. There are claims by some proponents that their symptoms are completely gone by the time they get to the recovery room after implant removal. Of course, this is impossible, in particular with claims by some proponents that it is an immune reaction (there is no such evidence). There certainly are women who have aches, pains, heart attacks, cancers, kidney disease, tiredness, and some of those women have breast implants. Because a woman has breast implants doesn’t mean she won’t still get diseases and medical problems that women without breast implants will get. Some of the people encouraging the hysteria will then say that because plastic surgeons put in implants, that they won’t tell the truth because it would affect their livelihood. Of course, plastic surgeons are physicians first, and the vast majority (there are always a few nuts in every profession) have the safety and health of their patients as the primary concern.

Unfortunately, even some plastic surgeons have compounded the problem because of the money that can be made in implant removal. You may see some surgeons advertising “en-bloc” capsulectomy and implant removal, and they are charging huge amounts of money. This is shameful, as completely unnecessary surgery is being done, and the likelihood of those medical complaints going away with the surgery is small and from the science, unrelated to the breast implants.

If you are having issues, the best thing to do is talk to your plastic surgeon. Even some other types of doctors have incorrect opinions and beliefs about this issue, so your plastic surgeon that is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons is the expert to talk to. Relax and enjoy your breast augmentation.




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