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Do Breast Implants Cause Illness?

If you’ve been reading up on breast augmentation surgeries, you may have come across stories of “breast implant illness,” a condition which some patients report experiencing after getting silicone breast implants.

The symptoms of breast implant illness reported are often broad and vague, and include things like:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • New food allergies or intolerances
  • “Brain fog” and/or memory loss
  • Slower hair growth
  • Reproductive problems
  • Low immunity

Why do these symptoms happen? Is breast implant illness an actual condition?

There’s not a lot of scientific evidence linking breast implants with these symptoms. But if not the implants, where do these symptoms come from?

One possibility: chance.

Over a million people have breast implant surgery every year. Most of them keep their implants for many years afterwards.

If you take any group of that many people, and then follow up with them for the next couple decades, it’s likely that at least some of them will develop medical issues.

Autoimmune conditions can cause pain, fogginess, inflammation, and food intolerances – the same symptoms reported by some breast implant recipients.

When breast implant illness = a known complication

Like any surgery, breast augmentation can lead to several complications both immediately afterwards and down the road. Many patients experiencing “breast implant illness” may actually have a known breast implant complication.

Capsular contraction, in which scar tissue forms around the implant, rupture, wrinkling, infection or a seroma are all side effects that can come from a breast implant surgery. When these complications are treated appropriately, they typically resolve.

This reality can also make it complicated to identify possible cases of actual breast implant illness.

Autoimmune reactions?

Everyone’s body is different, and it’s possible that some people do react negatively to the addition of a foreign object such as an implant.

Silicone typically does not cause immune reactions such as the connective-tissue and chronic fatigue symptoms described, even if the implant ruptures.

In the U.S., following initial reports of “breast implant illness,” silicone implants were briefly banned for everyone except reconstructive patients. But during that time, extensive research found no link between silicone and harmful side effects.

Silicone implants were put back on the market in the U.S. back in 2006.  Since then, there still hasn’t been a clear link found between implants and any of the symptoms listed above.

The bottom line

Of course, it can be difficult to study the impact of implants long term – the population of people with implants includes people of all ages and backgrounds, and surgical techniques have changed dramatically over our lifetimes. 

But silicone-based implants have been around in some form for almost sixty years.  Despite how this history, there still isn’t evidence that indicates a link between breast implants and your risk of developing health conditions.

True reactions to breast implants that aren’t caused by another underlying condition are exceedingly rare.

Still, preventing and/or treating possible side effects of cosmetic surgery is one of the reasons it’s so important to go to a qualified plastic surgeon. Your surgeon should provide follow-up support after your surgery and discuss any concerns that develop throughout the lifetime of your implants.

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