Breast Implant Illness
Kevin Brenner, MD, FACS
Kevin Brenner, MD, FACS is a board-certified plastic surgeon and general surgeon in Beverly Hills. Dr. Brenner’s education has extended across several universities and branches in the medical field. Dr. Brenner specializes in breast, abdominal and facial plastic surgery.
One of the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures for women in the United States is breast augmentation. This is accomplished by using a silicone or saline-filled breast implant to help shape and enhance a woman’s breast. There are hundreds of thousands of women that are very happy with their breast implants, resulting in an enhanced appearance, increased confidence and improved self-esteem.
As the most popular surgical cosmetic procedure in the United States, in 2018 alone there were more than 300,000 performed. This procedure is a very safe procedure, but as with any operation there can always be potential risks and complications. Recently, there has been increased focus on a subset of women with breast implants in place, who have been experiencing one or more systemic symptoms which have been associated with their breast implants. This has been a patient-driven phenomenon, fueled by the recent popularity of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and WeChat.
“Breast Implant Illness” (also known as “BII”) is not recognized by the medical community in the United States as a true medical diagnosis, mostly because the symptoms can vary so greatly from patient to patient. Some of the more common symptoms that can occur include, “brain fog,” memory difficulty, numbness and tingling of the breast and extremities, breast pain, malaise, infertility, as well as muscle aches and joint pain. Many of these symptoms can occur with other common medical diseases. As such, it is important to be evaluated by your primary doctor to rule out other serious medical conditions.
The symptoms of BII can widely vary between patients. Patients who do develop symptoms consistent with BII, most likely have a genetic pre-disposition to having an overwhelming inflammatory reaction to having a breast implant in their body.
Although there is no exact medical evidence that breast implants cause any of these disease conditions, a majority of patients remain fixated on associating these symptoms to the implants in their bodies. There is also an additional idea that these symptoms may be associated with bacteria colonizing in the area of the implant and resulting in the possibility of a sub-clinical infection.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BREAST IMPLANT ILLNESS?
As more and more doctors treat these patients, the list of symptoms and conditions have grown. Some of the most common symptoms seen in my practice are:
• numbness and tingling of the breast and extremities,
• breast pain
• feeling like they are in a ‘fog’
• memory difficulties
• fertility issues
• muscle aches and joint pains
• hair loss (alopecia)
Most patients who come in with these types of issues (usually after a long and comprehensive evaluation by their primary care doctor that rules out other more likely and serious illnesses) often request to have their implants removed. They also usually ask to have their breast capsules removed as well. A large number of patients have reported improvement in their symptoms following such a procedure, though results vary in every patient.
CAN BREAST IMPLANT ILLNESS ACTUALLY BE TREATED?
BII can absolutely be addressed. A lot of patients first look to their general practitioners for advice and this obviously would be understandable. However, even the best general physicians in the United States are not able to treat Breast Implant Illness. Breast Implant Illness requires the expertise of a board-certified plastic surgeon to remove implants (and associated breast capsules) if necessary.
In my practice, when patients are deemed to have Breast Implant Illness, I will oftentimes proceed with Explantation with removal of the surrounding capsules. Additionally, many of these patients will also elect to undergo simultaneous breast lifting, in order to tighten up the breast skin envelope, resulting in a perkier and more youthful appearance. Still others will choose to have liposuction with fat grafting to the breast, either at the time of explantation, or some months later.
Breast Implant Illness can certainly be addressed, oftentimes with excellent results. If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from Breast Implant Illness, the best first step is to contact your primary physician. Then he or she may contact a plastic surgeon like me, to determine if explantation is warranted and how to best go about it.