The most common complication of breast implants is capsular contracture. When you get breast implants, your body naturally responds by forming scar tissue around the implants. Capsular contracture occurs when the scar tissue tightens around the breast implant. This can cause the implant to harden and become very painful. It can also change the shape of the breast, making it look abnormal, as shown in the photo below. The photo below is of a breast augmentation patient, but capsular contracture is even more common and often more extreme among reconstruction patients.
Baker Grade IV capsular contracture. Photo courtesy of Walter Peters, Ph.D., M.D., F.R.C.S.C., University of Toronto.
To fix capsular contracture, doctors used to perform a “closed capsulotomy.” This painful procedure involves squeezing the breast very hard to break the scar tissue capsule. This procedure should never be done. Most plastic surgeons do not perform this procedure anymore, but some do. The squeezing can break the implant and the capsule. Closed capsulotomies are not effective, and capsular contracture often comes back.
There are different grades of capsular contracture (Baker I, Baker II, Baker III, and Baker IV). They are graded based on the severity of symptoms:
Baker Grading System for Capsular Contracture
|Baker I||Breast is soft|
|Baker II||Breast is slightly firm|
|Baker III||Breast is firm and possibly misshapen and uncomfortable|
|Baker IV||Breast is hard, painful, and misshapen|
Health insurance companies that will pay for breast implant removal usually cover removal when there is severe capsular contracture (Baker III and Baker IV). This is because severe, painful capsular contracture interferes with mammography (breast cancer screening). It can also interfere with daily activities, such as reaching above your head.
Capsular contracture does not usually get better by itself. If your breasts become very painful or hard, you will need surgery. Your surgeon would need to remove the scar tissue capsule and the implant. If you have any breast tissue, it might need to be removed during the surgery because it is attached to the scar tissue.
All articles are reviewed and approved by Diana Zuckerman, PhD, and other senior staff.