If you’re not quite sure what breast implant illness (BII) is, that’s because it’s a relatively new term for a condition that hasn’t been fully defined and isn’t yet medically recognized, at least not in an official capacity that comes with specific diagnostic criteria.
Even so, a number of women with breast implants are reporting wide-ranging symptoms collectively referred to as BII. While there’s no doubt that these symptoms are real, researchers are still trying to determine if they’re caused by implants or if they’re the product of an unrelated illness or condition.
As an implant expert who specializes in cosmetic and reconstructive breast augmentation at Brooks Plastic Surgery in Hollywood, Florida, Christopher Brooks, MD, is committed to staying up to date on the latest information regarding BII.
Here’s what you should know about this perplexing problem.
Breast implant illness 101
BII is the informal term that some women — and even some doctors — use to describe a range of unexplained symptoms that women can experience following cosmetic breast augmentation or reconstructive breast surgery with implants.
Researchers’ current understanding of breast implant illness is largely based on the self-identified symptoms and anecdotal evidence women have shared with their plastic surgeons, primary care doctors, and one another across social media on popular pages that are dedicated to the topic.
BII appears to be associated with a wide range of potential health effects. Commonly reported physical and mental symptoms, include:
- Chronic fatigue and headaches
- Persistent joint and muscle pain
- Unexplained respiratory difficulties
- Hair loss and frequent skin rashes
- Chronically dry mouth and eyes
- Poor memory and concentration
- Depression, anxiety, and insomnia
Some women have also anecdotally reported unexplained chest pain, chills, sensitivity to light, and hormonal disturbances following implant surgery.
Breast implant illness, or something else?
Although several studies and systematic reviews have looked into breast implant safety as well as the potential existence of BII, researchers still don’t understand the problem well enough to draw any definitive conclusions.
Even so, doctors and researchers are busy looking for answers. Given that the jury is currently out on why — and how — some women with implants develop wide-ranging systemic symptoms, experts are focusing on what they do know.
One thing they know is that many of the symptoms associated with BII are similar to the kinds of symptoms caused by autoimmune and connective tissue disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma. They also know, however, that the general cluster of BII symptoms doesn’t seem to match any classic disease diagnosis.
ASIA — a leading theory
While some women with BII symptoms are eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or a connective tissue disorder, many are not. Researchers also recognize the possibility that some women may be experiencing a systemic inflammatory reaction to their implants.
Among the various BII hypotheses that have been explored to date, a leading theory is that some women may be genetically predisposed to developing an immune reaction to the materials used in breast implants.
This top theory even has a name: autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA). The pattern of widespread symptoms seen in ASIA, which is a recognized condition, are caused by a systemic reaction to adjuvants, such as silicone.
Some experts believe that ASIA is actually a better term — or explanation — for BII.
Breast implant illness solutions
BII symptoms can emerge anytime after implant surgery — some women develop them right away, while others develop problems several years later. If you’re experiencing symptoms that you believe may be related to your implants, it’s important to see your primary care physician as well as Dr. Brooks.
If your primary care doctor can rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, either through testing, unsuccessful treatment measures, or both, you may find yourself considering implant removal.
As of now, complete implant removal is the solution that’s most likely to deliver long-term relief for persistent and otherwise unexplained symptoms. In most cases, both the implants and the surrounding scar tissue are removed. Implant removal often — but not always — improves or resolves BII symptoms.
If you want to learn more about breast implant illness or to talk with Dr. Brooks about any worrisome symptoms you may be having, call our Hollywood, Florida, office or click online to request an appointment today.