Breast Implant Illness (BII) is a non-defined term given by patients to a variety of symptoms that are being experienced in a situation where they have a breast implant in place. Some of the symptoms stated by patients that they are experiencing include fatigue, foggy memory, headaches, joint and muscle pain, hair loss, infections, swollen lymph nodes and glands, rashes, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), to name a few. These rare reported symptoms have been listed in the ASPS Breast Enlargement brochure for many years under Risks of Breast Enlargement even though to date it has been hard to scientifically prove any direct link.
These symptoms are noted to be caused also by a large number of other illnesses that are well documented and can also occur in women who do not have implants. Whilst it is important to keep an open mind, various studies have failed to show a link relating these symptoms directly to breast implants. This was extensively researched in the 1990s and plastic surgeons continue to research and explore whether any scientific evidence can be found. Plastic surgeons acknowledge that patients experience various symptoms. The important thing we need to continue trying to elucidate is whether there truly is a causative link rather than a situation where the two things are simply occurring in the same person at the same time. Some patients experiencing these symptoms have had their implants removed and some appear to have been helped by removal of implants. However, there are also numerous patients who have had implants removed and continue to have ongoing symptoms, suggesting the implants were not playing a role.
Patients have every right to undergo breast implant removal should they wish; however, it is important to consider the pros and cons prior to proceeding. Our patients’ best interests are always foremost in our minds. We are always here to help.
In August of 2022, the President of The Aesthetic Society issued a Presidential Advisory alerting members of that organization to a new study on BII that was published in the prestigious Aesthetic Surgery Journal. The new study follows an initial study that found the type of capsulectomy technique potentially utilized to remove breast implants in women claiming to have symptoms of BII did not have an impact on symptom resolution. This second part of the study, titled “Heavy Metals in Breast Implant Capsules and Breast Tissue: Findings from the Systemic Symptoms in Women–Biospecimen Analysis Study: Part 2”, evaluated subjects including: patients who claimed to have BII-related symptoms; patients who had no symptoms they were attributing to breast implants but were having their implants replaced or removed; and a control group of patients who had breast lift surgery (mastopexy) but had never undergone a breast implant procedure. The study ultimately demonstrated that trace levels of metals found were similar to the levels found in items such as water, food, and others. The authors of the study also found that metals discovered in implant capsules were below safe levels of exposure, and that those metals were also found in breast tissue of patients in the study who did not have breast implants. Ultimately, the alert from The Aesthetic Society noted that the exclusive recommendation of en bloc capsulectomy (removal of the implants along with the implant capsules that surround them in one piece), which has previously been recommended as an exclusive remedy from certain social media groups and marketing campaigns, does not have sufficient scientific backing to support its recommendation as the exclusive solution over total or partial capsulectomies in terms of symptom relief. In other words, The Aesthetic Society contends that promoting en bloc capsulectomy as the exclusive remedy for patients who believe they have BII symptoms is not evidence-based at this time.
You can find the full text of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal article on the study here.
It is important if a patient is experiencing any symptoms or has any concerns regarding their implants or general health that they seek medical advice. All patients, with implants or not, should also perform self-examination of their breasts on a monthly basis as well as at their checkups with their GP.