What is Breast Implant Illness
What is Breast Implant Illness?
Preventable symptoms from toxic implants
Breast implant illness (BII) manifests itself in so many ways. It’s brain fog, a feeling of going through life in a thick haze. Acid reflux. Uncontrollable anxiety. A rapid heartbeat so alarming, it keeps a person from engaging in aerobic exercise. Arm pain, weakness, autoimmune disease, bladder infections, chronic fatigue…the list goes on and on. Though the symptoms are varied, they stem from one root cause: breast implants.
For years, women have been told that it isn’t a big deal to inflate cup size through breast augmentation. The main questions to ask the doctors were: Silicone or saline? Over muscle or underneath? What exactly IS a gummy bear implant? We laughed with our friends, picked out new wardrobes of V-necks and bikini tops. What’s the harm of going up a cup size or two? We rationalized the operation. It wasn’t a big deal, surely. What would a few weeks without weightlifting matter? A little bit of pain would mean cup-sizes of gain. We’d have these coveted ‘bigger boobs’ forever.
Though some women undergo breast augmentation and never have problems with their implants, more and more are coming forward to say that they too have symptoms of BII. These implants, these foreign invaders plumping our chests, are affecting some of us in devastating ways.
How long do breast implants last?
For some women who suffer from BII, that ‘forever’ timeline was never clarified. It turns out that breast implants were never meant to ‘live’ in the body indefinitely. Some break down quicker than others, and some can leak silently for years. A woman would never know the tiny leaks were happening until she finally went to the doctor for mysterious symptoms and saw the leak on an MRI.
According to Healthline, implants can last 10-20 years. However, some people need to replace theirs sooner. It’s not always obvious when replacement is necessary. The actual breast may become hardened or uncomfortable. A rippling or dimpling may be visible. Or the rupture can happen undetected, accompanied with baffling symptoms of BII that the patient doesn’t recognize as related to the implant.
Why do we feel the need to have implants at all?
Perhaps the implants became a small win in a woman’s fight against breast cancer. Post-mastectomy, she could, after the expanders had hollowed out a space large enough, feel ‘like a woman’ again. Cancer wouldn’t take her dignity. Cancer would take her natural breasts, but here she was, perhaps with even a larger cup size than before. Breast augmentation could do that – it could restore that confidence.
No matter the reason for augmentation, the problem is that it can also make us sick. Those who suffer from breast implant illness may find themselves in an overwhelming vortex of medical problems. What’s more, the medical community is divided regarding how much implants play a role in the malaise. They’re perfectly safe, the medical community has long assured us. There’s no cause for worry. For the women who have experienced near-instant relief as soon as explant is completed, there is no question that this advice is wrong. Read Akemi Fisher’s story here.
We’ve traded benign inquiries about cup size and silicone for ones more sinister, queries that include: Do I have breast implant illness? and Will my implants give me cancer? Welcome to the side effects of augmentation – and they aren’t limited to post-operative swelling. Anaplastic large cell lymphoma has recently been linked specifically to textured implants. The FDA has recognized this.
Am I at risk of developing anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)?
Did your expansion/augmentation involve Allergan BIOCELL textured implants and/or expanders? If your answer is ‘yes,’ you are at risk of developing anaplastic large cell lymphoma, which has specifically been linked to this implant model. Though the percentage of women diagnosed with this cancer of the immune system is perceived to be low, this specific, textured implant definitely puts a woman at risk. Textured implants differ from other implants in that they adhere snugly to tissue. This made them popular among women who seek a ‘more natural’ look.
Allergan, the manufacturer of Biocell textured implants, was sued in August 2019 by two women who stated they wouldn’t have opted for the implants if they had known of the cancer risk. Though as of now textured implants are the only type of implants implicated in the development of the rare cancer, which attacks the immune system, the mere admission of the FDA as to their cancer connection opens the proverbial door for more claims. Read about the lawsuit on insider.com here.
What about breast implant illness? Is it the same thing?
Breast implant illness is different than the specific risks posed by Allergan textured implants. For years, women have been visiting their doctors to ask for relief from symptoms. Often, tests came back negative; women were told that they were ‘making symptoms up’ or that breast implant illness couldn’t possibly be a reality. After all, the FDA deemed breast implants safe. How could anything adverse possibly be occurring?
Breast implant illness strikes women who have elected to have silicone breast implants. It afflicts those who opt for sterile ones. Recipients of the gummy bear implant, that cutely named but dangerous device, are vulnerable as well. Though different theories exist regarding the cause of BII, one is that silicone makes up the outer shell of each implant, regardless of interior. That silicone could possibly affect the body.
There are other instances where the implant could be perceived as a threat to health. Sometimes a woman undergoes explant only to reveal that the implants look the same as the day they were inserted. That does not necessarily mean, however, that they are not to blame for her breast implant illness symptoms. Many women report feeling markedly better post-explant.
What about leakage? Can’t I just replace my faulty implant and be fine?
The answer may be ‘yes.’ However, when a breast implant is placed, the body surrounds it with a capsular mass of fibrous tissue. A leaky implant may have slowly but surely contaminated it with heavy metals and other components of medical grade silicone. Additionally, implants that have ruptured can exhibit mold and bacteria. Replacing the implant may lessen symptoms and allow for body symmetry, but leaving the capsule may mean leaving the symptoms as well.
Is one implant better than another?
Women with saline breast implants have reported breast implant illness symptoms. So too have women with silicone. The FDA’s recent admonition to implant manufacturers to warn women about the potential dangers of breast implants doesn’t discriminate between silicone and saline. It encompasses all implants. Therefore, though one implant may give you a more desired look, beware: all have the potential to make you sick.
How close is breast implant illness to being recognized as a ‘real threat?’
As more and more women come forward with health complaints that can’t be explained, it stands to reason that breast implant illness will be accepted as a possible side effect of breast implants. Symptoms of breast implant illness vary from person to person, but they share one common thread: the foreign object each woman has willingly placed in her body. Women who share their stories of suffering are advocating for the preparation of insurance codes, which could ensure that explant surgeries are more affordable. They are visiting the FDA to speak about the BII journey. They are standing up and speaking out, hoping that their stories will either keep women from selecting breast augmentation in the first place or give them a solid community to turn to if BII symptoms arise after their operation.
As founder of The Heal is Real, Akemi Fisher, wants women to know that the call for no more augmentation is not one of judgement. A former sufferer of BII herself, she does not want anyone to experience the pain and trauma she did. She has a message for every augmented woman experiencing symptoms: Explant, explant, explant.
“Do it yesterday,” she says. “If you’re having health issues that no one can seem to explain, consider this: our bodies were not meant to have these implants forcefully placed inside.”
“Will every woman experience breast implant illness? -Perhaps not. For those who do, there’s a simple solution. Take. Them. Out.”
Fisher suffered BII symptoms for years, and for a long time, she couldn’t pinpoint a cause. Her lethargy was extensive. The malaise was at such a level that she could not believe mere implants could be the culprit. After trying alternative therapies and ruling out other health challenges, she chose explant surgery and is now thriving. Fisher wants women to know her story, and to learn from it.
“The heal is real,” she says. “It’s time for us to remove these implants and get ourselves back on a path to health.”
For more information about what is involved in explant, what it means to have breast implant illness and to join a community of supportive women in the global quest to raise BII awareness, visit thehealisreal.org. Share your story here. And if you have found relief through explant, keep telling your story. Through experiences like yours, hopefully others can avoid their own anguish.