If an implant tears or develops a hole, it is called a rupture. Some implant ruptures happen during the first few months, but the older an implant is, the more likely it is to rupture. It’s not always obvious when an implant has ruptured. Here’s what you need to know.
Saline Implant Ruptures
When a saline (salt water) breast implant ruptures, it will probably leak very quickly. The implant deflates much like a balloon that has lost the air inside. As this happens, your breast will change in size and/or shape. If a saline implant leaks slowly, it might not be immediately noticeable. When the saline leaks, the body absorbs it. It is usually harmless unless bacteria, yeast, or mold are inside the implant. They can cause a serious infection. If you notice a change in the size or shape of your saline implant along with symptoms like swelling, redness, or fever you should see a doctor immediately.
Silicone Implant Ruptures
When a silicone gel breast implant ruptures, it usually leaks very slowly. A ruptured silicone gel implant may not be obvious for many years. This is why silicone gel implant ruptures are sometimes called “silent” ruptures. Sometimes, the rupture is discovered only when the implant is removed.
When a silicone implant ruptures, the silicone can either stay inside the capsule (the thick layer of scar tissue that naturally grows around the implant) or it can leak outside the capsule. It is more serious when the silicone leaks outside of the capsule. When this happens, silicone can migrate to the lymph nodes, and from there can go to the lungs, liver, or other organs where it’s impossible to remove. The longer a woman waits to have a ruptured silicone gel implant removed, the more silicone is likely to leak inside her body and cause health problems.
How Do I Find Out If My Silicone Implant Has Ruptured?
If your silicone gel implant ruptures, you might notice a change in the size or shape of your breast. You might feel pain or tenderness, swelling, numbness, burning, or tingling. Or, you might not have any symptoms, making it impossible to know you have a rupture.
Because most women don’t notice when a silicone gel implant ruptures, the FDA recommends having breast MRIs regularly to detect ruptures that have no symptoms. When silicone breast implants were first approved, the FDA recommended that all women undergo a breast MRI 3 years after getting breast implants, and every other year after that. However, because of the expense and the reluctance of plastic surgeons to encourage MRIs for silent ruptures, very few women followed the FDA’s advice. As of October 2020, FDA now recommends an MRI 5-6 years after the initial surgery and every 2-3 years after that.
A mammogram is the least accurate way to diagnose a ruptured silicone-gel breast implant. In addition, the pressure could cause the silicone to leak outside the capsule.
What Should I Do If My Implant Ruptures?
If your saline implant has ruptured, you should see a doctor. This is especially important if you feel sick, have a temperature, a rash, or other unexplained symptoms. You could have an infection and require treatment.
If you have ruptured silicone gel implants, they should be removed as soon as possible. The longer the silicone is allowed to remain in the body, the more time it has to migrate to other parts of your body. Once the silicone has moved to other parts of your body, it can’t be removed and may cause other health problems. Just as important as having leaking silicone gel implants removed, is having them removed en bloc. En bloc removal is when the scar tissue (or capsule) and implant are removed at the same time, with the implant still inside the intact scar tissue capsule. En bloc removal allows the silicone and other chemicals to stay inside the intact scar tissue capsule as it is removed. En bloc removal prevents silicone and other chemicals from leaking into the woman’s body during surgery. It requires a larger incision but it is worth it because it prevents leakage.
Since breast implant removal includes costs (such as anesthesia) that are similar whether you have one implant removed or two, it is usually best to remove them both at the same time, whether or not you want them to be replaced. For example, if your implants were put in at the same time, and one is ruptured, it is likely that the other will rupture soon. One surgery is much less expensive than two.
Can Broken Implants Make Me Sick?
According to research by FDA scientists, women with leaking silicone implants are more likely to report fibromyalgia (widespread body pain and fatigue) or several other diseases, compared to women whose implants are not leaking.1 One study found that 3 out of every 4 women who removed their silicone breast implants saw improvement in their symptoms.2
No research has been published on the health risks of broken saline implants but bacteria from ruptured saline implants have caused women to become ill.
All articles are reviewed and approved by Diana Zuckerman, PhD, and other senior staff.
- Brown SL, Pennello G, Berg WA, Soo MS, Middleton MS. Silicone gel breast implant rupture, extracapsular silicone, and health status in a population of women. J Rheumatol. 2001;28(5):996-1003. ▲
- de Boer M, Colaris M, van der Hulst RRW, Cohen Tervaert JW.Is explantation of silicone breast implants useful in patients with complaints? Immunol Res. 2017 Feb;65(1):25-36. doi: 10.1007/s12026-016-8813-y. ▲