Some of us get them for confidence. Some just want to fill out a top, or feel more feminine. And some women get them post-mastectomy. Whatever the reason, over 400,000 women go under the knife each year for breast implants.
It’s a deeply personal decision made for a myriad of reasons. And it’s one so commonplace, we probably all know at least one woman with implants. Maybe you’re one of the five million women with implants yourself.
While any body augmentation is a personal decision that every woman is 100% entitled to make for herself, what no one signs up for when they go under the knife is worsened health, or even deadly side effects.
Unfortunately for many women, like myself, Breast Implant Illness is a very real reality.
What Is Breast Implant Illness?
If you’ve heard of Breast Implant Illness in recent months or feel like it’s suddenly everywhere on your newsfeeds, that’s because it is.
It’s such a recent issue that no database exists. So it’s unknown exactly how many, but thousands of women are choosing to go under the knife again to have their implants removed.
And many are taking to social media or the news to share their stories of declining health, mood changes, and serious health implications. They believe their breast implants are to blame.
In a world where Western medicine is fraught with politics and corporate interest, we often have to take our health into our own hands.
In a world where Western medicine is fraught with politics and corporate interest above the health of patients, we often have to take our health into our own hands. This is a fast-developing story that you need to keep up with. If not for yourself, then for those in your life with implants.
So just what is Breast Implant Illness and why are so many women removing their breast implants? Let’s dive in. Both to the science and the personal side, as I am one of these women.
Here’s what you need to know.
The History of Breast Implants
First off, it’s worth taking a short look at the history of implants. As far as medical devices go, they’ve been around for a minute. Many women, myself included, felt comfortable with the decision to get breast implants because they’ve simply been around for so long.
The first implants hit the market in the early 1960s as reconstructive prosthetics, in both silicone and saline varieties. Since then, multiple “generations” of breast implants have been released, with varying risks and safety concerns.
To this day, women are routinely warned before getting their implants (I had to sign extensive paperwork before my surgery) of the risk of infection, painful hardening around the implant known as capsular contraction, or leakage or popping of the implant itself.
Back in the ’70s, the FDA actually ruled that a known-carcinogen was present in the chemicals of the implants, which could lead to breast cancer. However, this was not enough to discontinue that model or require physicians to explain that risk to their patients.
Silicone implants are ruled as safe to this day.
Silicone breast implants were banned by the FDA entirely in 1992, due to health concerns. Despite this, throughout the 2000s women continued to get implants in increasing numbers each year.
In 2006, the FDA lifted the ban of silicone implants under the agreement that they would conduct ongoing studies of women with silicone implants to keep an eye on their long-term safety.
However, in 2011 at a public meeting on breast implants, the FDA admitted that most of their test subjects had dropped out within just a few years. Many women testified that when they reported that their implants were causing health issues, they were dismissed from the study entirely.
Regardless of the sketchy-at-best science, silicone implants are still ruled as safe to this day.
What Went Wrong With Breast Implants?
Despite the FDA rulings that implants are totally safe, it’s no secret that implants, both saline and silicone ones, are made up of a laundry list of ingredients that should raise concern, to put it mildly.
According to the FDA, arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, tin, and platinum are found in all Mentor implants (a common implant brand). Many other chemicals, heavy metals, and synthetic materials are added to implants, and manufacturers often change and add ingredients.
It’s well documented that even if the implants don’t rupture, silicone and heavy metals can leach into the body. Saline implants can grow mold and mildew. All implants regardless of the type of brand cause an inflammatory response in the body, as it reacts to a foreign object.
As heavy metals and chemicals leach into the body, the immune system is weakened. This leaves women more susceptible to illness and infection, heavy metal toxicity, oxidative stress, and issues with the thyroid and endocrine system.
Breast Implant Illness: The Silent Disease
One of the biggest problems of Breast Implant Illness is that it’s a silent disease. It can manifest itself as a laundry list of symptoms, which can start immediately after the surgery or, in some cases, not for years and years.
The numbers of women reporting this are overwhelming. Over 80,000 women are in one Facebook Breast Implant Illness support group alone, and that number is growing by the day.
Another problem is that almost every symptom (which range from exhaustion, fatigue, muscle aches, hair loss, recurring infections, rashes, thyroid disease, and on and on), is also a symptom caused by numerous other diseases.
For this reason, many women who complain that their implants are making them sick have been ignored or dismissed, even by their doctors themselves. Some say these symptoms are caused by autoimmune issues, but many Breast Implant Illness sufferers don’t have such diseases.
Not sure if it’s autoimmune or not? Here are 7 Signs You May Be Suffering from an Autoimmune Condition (From an Integrative Doctor)
My Story With Breast Implant Illness
After getting my implants in 2015, I didn’t experience any side effects that I noticed for three years. As a fitness coach, I’m very active, and a very health-obsessed vegan.
You name it, I’ve done it, when it comes to healthy practices: meditation, using all-natural products, drinking a gallon of water a day, sleeping at least eight hours a night, working out daily.
Yet in the fall of 2018, I began to feel tired in a way I’d never felt. I had to prop myself up on caffeine just to make it through the day, and often couldn’t get through my workday at all.
I had strange, unexplained skin rashes, swollen glands, ear infections, worsening thyroid levels, and painful sore throats that no tests could explain. But I know my body and I knew something was wrong.
The exhaustion worsened, and when I started feeling faint during my normal daily workouts, I finally began to believe the hype around Breast Implant Illness, which previously I’d scoffed away as just that – hype.
Unfortunately for many women Breast Implant Illness is a very real reality.
I got blood work done and tested everything testable. And like so many women, nothing in my blood work could explain the symptoms I was feeling.
When I went in for a consultation to talk about having my breast implants removed, my surgeon told me that while no hard science backs up Breast Implant Illness as a legitimate medically-recognized disease, he also believes his patients. He told me there was no doubt in his mind “something is going on.”
No 20-something (or anyone!) wants to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars for an explant, especially just a few years after paying for the implant surgery, but I wasn’t willing to risk my health.
I knew in my gut already, but as I read more and more about Breast Implant Illness and other women’s stories, I became more convinced that my implants were to blame.
The day I met with my surgeon to have them removed, I burst into relieved tears as he told me he believed me that my implants were the culprit, and that he knew I’d feel better after my explant.
Flash forward to one month after my surgery, and my energy is through the roof, my brain fog is gone, my skin and hair are no longer dry, and my eyes and skin tone are brighter and clearer.
I’ll never be able to prove my implants were the cause, but sometimes science only goes so far, before you have to listen to your own body.
The Science Behind Breast Implant Illness
Many everyday objects, medications, or standard practices that at one point in time were deemed totally safe and normal, we’ve since learned are far from it.
Asbestos was once a common construction material. Household paint used to contain lead. At one point in time, doctors would recommend certain brands of cigarettes to their patients. Could breast implants soon be revealed as the new tobacco?
The research and awareness around Breast Implant Illness is still in its infancy days. So it’s safe to assume we’re only just beginning to see the data and that we will understand it far more as time goes on.
Could breast implants soon be revealed as the new tobacco?
Currently, no hard data links breast implants to any type of autoimmune disease, so no one can prove the implants are to blame.
However, the FDA has released an official statement linking breast implants to an increased risk of a rare form of cancer. The page details that the cancer, known as BIA-ALCL is a type of lymphoma and that there is an association between the cancer and all implants, regardless of filling, texture, size, etc.
The Link Between Breast Implants and Cancer
As of September 30, 2018, there were a total of 660 reported cases involving breast implants and BIA-ALCL since 2015. Nine patient deaths have now been reported. The FDA recommends that all physicians learn about the disease and the link so they’re able to educate their patients.
While the FDA is the leading voice on the official warnings for breast implants, the National Institute of Health also underlines that implants can cause complications. And the longer you have them in, the greater the risk becomes. (Most plastic surgeons recommend replacing the implants every 10 years if not more frequently.)
The National Center for Health Research compiled a very comprehensive article examining all existing studies around breast implant safety, as well as the complaints of women dealing with symptoms after receiving implants.
Their official consensus, like everyone’s, is that as of yet, no formal link exists between breast implants and Breast Implant Illness. But again, the complaints of thousands and thousands of women cannot be ignored.
Furthermore, they concluded that research does show an increase of symptoms in women with implants versus the general public of women without. They also raised serious concerns that the existing studies have never looked at a large enough number of women, nor have they looked at them for long enough.
The Takeaway on Breast Implants and Breast Implant Illness
While the hard science does link breast implants and cancer, which should be cause for concern enough, what about the thousands of women dealing with the symptoms of Breast Implant Illness?
A year ago, it would have been rare to see much talk of Breast Implant Illness or explanting at all, much less in the news. Today, a simple google search pulls up endless stories from all around the world on cases of Breast Implant Illness and women who are choosing to explant.
A year ago, the FDA didn’t recognize any links between breast implants and illness. Today, while they don’t yet recognize Breast Implant Illness as a medical disease, their website has a warning of the link between implants and BIA-ALCL. They have an advisory panel scheduled for late March of this year, to discuss the issue further.
What’s to unfold in the coming months and years is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for certain: Women taking their health into their own hands is a force to be reckoned with, and we’re not quieting down anytime soon.
Breast Implant Illness Resources
If you’d like to learn more about this issue or feel Breast Implant Illness may be affecting you, check out the Facebook group for Breast Implant Illness.
If you’ve experienced symptoms of Breast Implant Illness, you can report it here to the MedWatch Voluntary Reporting Form.
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.