Can Breast Implants Make You Sick?

Women's Health | | Natasha Weiss
5 min read

You probably know at least one person who has had their breasts augmented, and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you have as well. Breast augmentation can be life-changing for people’s confidence and self-esteem, but can also come with serious complications. 

Some breast augmentation patients end up having mysterious symptoms years down the line. Many of them don’t even think to connect the dots until they ask themselves “Can breast implants make you sick?”.

Why Do People Get Breast Implants?

The topic of plastic surgery can be quite the source of debate. But someone’s decision to get, or not get plastic surgery is totally their own. This is certainly true when it comes to breast augmentation. 

These are just some of the many reasons people decide to get breast implants:

  • Reconstructive surgery after a mastectomy or breast cancer.
  • Gender-affirming surgery for trans-women.
  • Augmentation after breastfeeding.
  • They want to.

There is no one right reason for getting elective surgery. It comes down to the personal choice and bodily autonomy of the person getting it. Still, there’s always a possibility that getting a major surgery can lead to complications like breast implant illness

What Is Breast Implant Illness?

One of the trickiest things about breast implant illness is that it’s not a specific condition. Instead it refers to a wide range of symptoms that someone develops after getting implants. This condition is also called silicone implant illness, breast implant disease, and autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA).

Despite the name “silicone implant illness”, people develop BII whether they have saline or silicone implants. Because it’s not widely understood, it’s also not an official medical diagnosis yet – making diagnosis and treatment that much more complicated. Because of this, healthcare professionals are unsure just how common breast implant illness is. 

We understand that BII is caused by undergoing a breast augmentation, but what about them can make you sick? 

  • A reaction to the surgery itself.
  • An infection caused by bacteria growing on the surface of the implant (biofilm infection).
  • An inflammatory or autoimmune reaction to the implant itself. 

Symptoms of Breast Implant Illness

You’ll remember that breast implant illness refers to a wide set of symptoms. In some cases symptoms develop soon after surgery, while others don’t start until years after. So what exactly are these symptoms?

Common symptoms of breast implant illness include:

  • Brain fog and difficulty concentrating.
  • Memory loss.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Muscle and joint pain and weakness.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Hair loss.
  • Vision issues or dry eyes.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Headaches and breathing problems.
  • Autoimmune symptoms or diagnosis.
  • Rashes and skin problems.

Symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Breast implant illness can affect people’s cognition, musculoskeletal system, and overall health. People diagnosed with breast implant illness have reported more than different symptoms. 

Treating Breast Implant Illness

The first step in treatment for most conditions is diagnosis. There is currently no agreed upon diagnostic criteria or tests for people with breast implant illness, making diagnosis difficult. This means that diagnosis also includes ruling out other autoimmune  conditions like Lyme disease and arthritis. 

The go-to treatment for breast implant illness is to remove the possible source of the problem, aka breast implant removal. In addition to removing the implants, they may also remove any scar tissue surrounding the implants, called a capsulectomy.

When providers remove the implants and scar tissue the procedure is called a complete or total capsulectomy. This may help remove colonies of bacteria that are stuck within the scar tissue capsules, preventing the bacteria from moving into the body. 

A study of 100 patients with BII by the American Society for Aesthetics Plastic Surgery showed that 89% of people who had a capsulectomy and implant removal showed improvement in their symptoms within three months of removal. Another study in the Netherlands showed a 69% improvement in symptoms after implant removal.

Some people instead choose to replace their implants with a different type of implants. This may help with symptoms of BII, but is not a recommended treatment by medical providers.

Many people start to feel better after recovering from surgery, or within a month or so. Unfortunately some people continue to experience symptoms even after removal. 

Other treatment recommendations outside of surgery include:

  • Decreasing stress levels.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Decreasing inflammation in the body.
  • Eating a healthy diet. 

There is often overlap with BII and other autoimmune and connective tissue disorders. People suspected of having BII may also be diagnosed with scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus. 

Other Breast Implant Complications

Breast implant illness isn’t the only complication that can occur from breast augmentation. These are some other possible complications to keep on your radar:

  • Issues with lactation and breastfeeding.
  • Deflation or rupture of the implant.
  • Breast pain or decrease in breast or nipple sensitivity.
  • Reproductive health disorders.
  • Breast tissue atrophy.
  • Chest wall deformity.
  • Connective tissue disease.
  • Breast implant associated-anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), cancer or the immune system.

It’s important to note that while breast implants don’t increase someone’s risk of developing breast cancer, there are certain types of cancer that have been associated with implants. While there might be some overlap of symptoms, these cancers are separate from breast implant illness.

Again, breast augmentation is an elective surgery, but every individual’s reasons for getting it are valid. Still, it’s important to be aware of the possible risks and complications that can come from getting elective surgery, including breast implant illness. 

If you’re experiencing possible symptoms of breast implant illness, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as possible to rule out other conditions and move forward with treatment. 

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