As an aesthetic breast surgeon, I have performed hundreds of breast augmentation and mastopexy augmentation procedures. Generally, my patients respond beautifully to their breast implants. However, some patients out there do not. Breast Implant Illness (BII) is a new term to describe symptoms that some patients feel are the result of their breast implants. As a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon, I take my patients’ health very seriously. Furthermore, a huge component of my practice philosophy is to always listen to my patients and respect their experience. So even though, until recently, there are few dedicated studies on BII, if a patient came to me wanting her implants out because she thought they were making her sick, I took them out.
This is still my modus operandi. But like all of my colleagues, we want to know why these few women seem to have a bad reaction to a breast implant, regardless of whether that implant is silicone or saline, textured or smooth. Since the internet and the mainstream media have jumped on Breast Implant Illness, there is a lot of false information out there. This is why I wanted to take a moment to focus on the known, and unknown, facts about BII and what I do in my practice to protect my patients.
Breast Implant Illness (BII) is Real
Breast Implant Illness, though not yet an official medical diagnosis, is real. Unfortunately, one of the problems with it is that the symptoms are vague, wide ranging and similar to those associated with other know conditions such as an:
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormone imbalance
- Chronic Pain syndromes
The most common symptoms of Breast Implant Illness include:
- Chest pain
- Joint pain
- Hormone issues
- Hair loss
- Brain fog
- Sensitivity to light
- Chronic pain
- Body odor
- Trouble sleeping
- Neurological issues
The question is not whether or not certain women are suffering because of their implants, but how to determine if a patient will be one of these women.
Current Study into Breast Implant Illness
One of the current areas of focus of the research arm (ASERF) of the aesthetic society (ASAPS), of which I am a member, is on exactly this issue: How to devise a diagnostic test for Breast Implant Illness specifically? Part of the problem is that, like its list of symptoms, BII is unfortunately vague. Some patients who define themselves as having it test positive for an auto-immune disease while others do not. More importantly, the response among patients who have their implants removed is also not consistent. Some feel completely better, others somewhat better and some notice no change at all. This is regardless of whether or not they have their implants removed en bloc which is when the implant and the entire surrounding capsule are removed through surgery. This is why, so far, it is impossible to define BII as a distinct syndrome. And unless you know what you are up against, it is also impossible to test for it. But we are working on it. Thus far, there have been no reliable studies indicating a causal relationship between auto-immune diseases and breast implants.
BII & My Practice
BII is still in its infancy so while there is more unknown than known, we are making progress. My approach to BII with my patients is to listen and educate (both me and my patients). Whenever a potential patient comes in for a breast augmentation consultation, I spend considerable time discussing and listening to her medical history, family history, desired outcome and fears. I then spend as much time going over the best options for her unique needs, the safety of said options as well as the risks. Most importantly, I develop an on-going relationship with every one of my breast surgery patients. Ideally, if you schedule surgery with me, I will then see you annually to check up on your breast implants. This is literally the best thing that you can do to ensure the continued health of your breast implants. It also allows me the opportunity to share any groundbreaking news that may affect your health.
BIA-ALCL is a Known Disease
BIA-ALCL is just such an example. This a rare form of lymphoma that has been associated, so far, with textured implants only. Although there are some patients with smooth implants who develop this cancer, they are all patients who had textured implants previously. The good news with ALCL is that it is a defined disease. As such, it is totally treatable. When caught early, the cure rate is very high. And the best way to catch it early is to stay on top of any slight changes in your breast implants. This is another reason why staying in touch with your surgeon is so critical.
Breast augmentation surgery remains one of the most popular aesthetic surgical procedures in the world. It really is a safe, effective way to transform your entire torso. But there are always risks with any surgery. So, it’s important to see an experienced surgeon who will take the time to explain all of the pros and cons of your procedure. Ask questions about BII and how he or she deals with patients who think they have it. This is truly the best way for you to make an informed decision.