Women consider getting breast implants for many reasons. In addition to being an important part of breast reconstruction surgeries, it is also one of the most popular cosmetic surgeries. In 2018 alone, 313,735 women chose to undergo breast augmentation surgery (1). Unfortunately, thousands of women now live with systemic illnesses and health problems that they believe are related to their breast implants.
It is so common that patients have developed a name for these types of conditions, Breast Implant Illness (BII). Many doctors and health officials claim that there is no proof of a link between the implants and most conditions that women believe result from their implants. Does this mean that there truly is no connection?
What is Breast Implant Illness (BII)?
Breast Implant Illness is a term used to describe a range of autoimmune symptoms that are believed to be caused by women’s breast implants. It is not currently an official medical diagnosis. This is partly due to the fact that a woman with BII can experience a wide variety of symptoms that could lead to a diagnosis of multiple autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Scleroderma, Lupus, and Polymyositis or Dermatomyositis. The symptoms rarely fall neatly under one specific autoimmune disorder. Sometimes, autoimmune disorder symptoms appear within a year of receiving the implants but more often it can take years for the symptoms to become severe enough for a woman to seek medical treatment. Commonly reported symptoms include:
Cognitive impairment, brain fog, memory loss
Discoloration of hands or feet
Dry skin and/or hair
Muscle pain, myalgias
Numbness or tingling in upper and lower limbs
Sensitivity to light
Shortness of breath
If so many women believe breast implants cause BII, why are they FDA approved? Doesn’t that mean they are safe?
In determining the safety of breast implants, the FDA relied on a variety of studies that had major flaws in the way they were conducted or were never completed. Many of the clinical trials only followed women for a few months or years after they received implants. Since autoimmune disorders take time to develop enough to cause a woman to seek help, long-term studies were needed to make an accurate judgment on the safety of breast implants. The FDA claims that they have not detected an association between silicone gel-filled breast implants and connective tissue disease, breast cancer, or reproductive problems but also state