Q. I am wondering if some of my health problems are caused by my breast implants.
A. We’re not doctors and we don’t provide medical advice, but I can tell you what we know based on research and from speaking with many experts and with women who have had breast implants.
In testimony before the FDA, women with implants have described symptoms such as joint pain, chronic fatigue, mental confusion, hair loss, and flu-like symptoms. These are considered to be auto-immune symptoms, and according to the FDA, some of these symptoms are more common for women two years after getting silicone gel breast implants than they are before the women got breast implants. Those findings are based on the FDA’s analysis of women with silicone gel breast implants, and were made public on April 12-13, 2005 at a public meeting of the FDA advisory panel on breast implants.
All breast implants, even saline implants, are enveloped in an outer shell made of silicone. The envelope also contains other chemicals and some heavy metals, such as microscopic amounts of platinum or tin, which vary during the manufacturing process. Unfortunately, some women have a negative reaction to those substances. Although silicone is considered “biocompatible” and most people don’t have an allergic or autoimmune response, some people do. (Just as some people have an allergic response to peanuts or bee stings).
Any woman could potentially have a bad reaction to silicone or other substances in breast implants. However, the risks are higher for some women than others. Implant makers warn women with certain medical histories in their family or who have specific medical conditions that breast implants could be especially risky for them. Women who have family members with autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, MS, or lupus are one of the examples. Here is their exact language, located on the FDA website: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/BreastImplants/ucm063743.htm.
In a study of women who had breast implants for at least 7 years, FDA scientists found that women with leaking silicone gel breast implants were more likely to have fibromyalgia and other painful diseases than women with implants that were not leaking. Symptoms of fibromyalgia include pain and chronic fatigue. The FDA study was the first and most well-designed study evaluating the health effects of leaking silicone breast implants. Unfortunately, not all plastic surgeons are aware of the study, which is described in more detail on our website http://www.breastimplantinfo.org/what-you-need-to-know/ and the FDA website http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/MedicalDevices/MedicalDevicesAdvisoryCommittee/GeneralandPlasticSurgeryDevicesPanel/UCM269672.pdf.
The good news is that research shows that many women with breast implants and rheumatologic pain and symptoms find that their health improves dramatically after their implants are removed and not replaced. Dr. Frank Vasey from the University of South Florida and Dr. Noreen Aziz, a scientist at National Cancer Institute, found that most women with pain, fatigue, and other rheumatology symptoms felt better after their silicone implants were removed and not replaced. Many symptoms lessened or disappeared over the next few months. In contrast, most women who did not have their implants removed became even more ill. Those who had their implants removed and replaced with saline usually did not get better either.
You might have read about Kacey Long, who was featured in Parade Magazine, People, and on MTV’s I Want a Famous Face. Kacey was 19 when she got saline breast implants and 21 when she had them removed. She got sick very quickly, but didn’t realize her health problems were related to her implants. She started spending all her time in bed, and was in too much pain to even comb her hair. However, when her implants were removed she immediately started to feel better.
For examples of women who had similar symptoms and felt better after their implants were removed, see the personal stories on our website at http://www.breastimplantinfo.org/personal-stories/.
If the symptoms the other women describe sound like you, you may want to consider having your implants removed. If you have silicone gel breast implants that are broken, it is important to have them removed as soon as possible. For more information about that, read the other FAQs.