Research on Silicone Breast Implants and Unexplained Symptoms

Maura Duffy, National Center for Health Research

Many women with silicone breast implants suffer from symptoms that may seem unrelated to their implants, such as muscle pain, joint pain, chronic fatigue, numbness, memory loss, and dry mouth. Many women never find an answer to these “mystery illnesses” because women and their doctors do not consider a link between the two.  A study published in 2013 sheds light on the signs and symptoms that many women with silicone implants experience, and suggests that removing the implants can improve the women’s health dramatically.1

In this study by researchers in the Netherlands, women with silicone gel breast implants who were experiencing unexplained symptoms were invited to participate. Eighty women volunteered and underwent chest x-rays, blood work, and a physical exam to rule out other known causes of their symptoms. The participants filled out a questionnaire about their health and history with breast implants and were followed up with telephone interviews. Most of the women (89%) had breast implants for cosmetic reasons, and had implants for an average of 14 years. Notably, 75% of the women reported that they had allergies before they got their breast implants.

The researchers used the term “ASIA” (autoimmune syndrome induced by adjuvants) to describe the pattern of symptoms that comes on after exposure to an external stimuli such as infection, vaccine, or silicone. All 80 of the women in the study had at least two major symptoms of the following ASIA categories, and 79% fulfilled three or more categories.

  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Joint pain or inflammation
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Neurological symptoms e.g. numbness, impaired coordination, blurry vision
  • Memory loss or cognitive impairment
  • Fever or dry mouth

Most of the women reported they had not had new health problems for several years  after getting implants, and that these symptoms developed gradually. The researchers did not investigate if the women’s implants were ruptured, so it is unknown if the women’s implants were leaking silicone into the body.

Thirty-six out of the 52 women (69%) who had their implants removed experienced reduction in symptoms and 9 out of 52 experienced full recoveries after explantation. Although it is unknown which women will develop ASIA symptoms from silicone, the authors caution that anyone who has allergies may be more likely to have a bad reaction to silicone. The authors conclude that physicians should consider explanting silicone implants and the scar capsules that surrounds them as the treatment for women with silicone breast implants who have these otherwise unexplained symptoms.

A 2016 review also showed that many women who suffer from autoimmune symptoms after getting breast implants improve after removing the implants. In fact, silicone-related complaints (such as autoimmunesymptoms) got better for 3 out of 4 women after they removed their implants. It wasn’t only symptoms that improved, many women diagnosed with autoimmune diseases also improved after they removed their implants, although most of these patients were also taking immunosuppressive therapy before and after removal, and it is not clear if their improved health continued after the immunosuppressive therapy ended.2

Read the original article here.

  1. Maijers MC, de Blok CJ, Niessen FB, van der Veldt AA, et. al. Women with silicone breast implants and unexplained systemic symptoms: a descriptive cohort study. Neth J Med. 2013 Dec;71(10):534-40.  
  2. de Boer M, Colaris M, van der Hulst RRWJ, Cohen Tervaert JW. Is explantation of silicone breast implants useful in patients with complaints? Immunologic Research. July 2016 DOI: 10.1007/s12026-016-8813-y\