Women with Silicone Breast Implants and Unexplained Symptoms

M.C. Maijers et al., “Women with Silicone Breast Implants and Unexplained Systemic Symptoms: A Descriptive Cohort Study.” The Netherlands Journal of Medicine: December 2013

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, by researchers in the Netherlands, sheds light on the symptoms that many women with silicone implants experience, and suggests that removing the implants can improve the women’s health dramatically. 

In this study, researchers followed women with silicone gel breast implants who were experiencing unexplained symptoms (which were called “Autoimmune Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants,” or ASIA). 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.

All 80 women in the study had two or more of ASIA symptoms, and most women reported that they had not had new health problems for several years after getting implants, instead their symptoms developed gradually. 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.

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.  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 autoimmune symptoms) 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.

Read the original 2013 study here.

Read the 2016 study here.