Breast Implants: Health Complications

Silicone Implants: What's the story?
Silicone breast implants were pulled from the market in 1992 due to increasing concern that the silicone from the implants could cause a myriad of different diseases in women. Consequent studies have shown complications with both silicone and saline implants, although silicone implants appear to be the biggest culprits of autoimmune disorders.

Saline breast implants are a silicone pouch or envelope filled with a saline solution. The solution itself, unlike silicone, is harmless. In the case of an implant rupturing or leaking, the saline solution is absorbed into the body without any serious consequence. The risks involved with saline breast implants instead have two other sources, the silicone pouch that holds the saline solution, and the body's short and long-term response to the introduction of a foreign object.

Silicone Implants and Your Health
Women with silicone implants have reported a number of different health complications. General diffuse symptoms include swollen and tender glands under the arms, recurrent unexplained low-grade fever, hair loss, skin rash, memory loss, headaches, chest pain, and shortness of breath. However, these symptoms can be caused by several factors, and may not be at all associated with the implants.

Although the symptoms listed above may not necessarily be due to the implants, a stronger link has been made to autoimmune disorders and connective tissue disease. A relatively small, yet significant, portion of women with silicone implants has reported various connective tissue diseases including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Others have reported various autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

The major studies that have been done on the link between silicone breast implants and autoimmune disease have failed to find a statistically significant increase in disease. However, "not finding" and "not existing" are two different things. The use of oral contraceptives is known to suppress immune response and breast implant patients have higher rates of their use. Therefore, their rates of autoimmune disease could be raised due to the implants and suppressed due to birth control pills. These two could cancel each other out. Then, when compared to controls the group with implants would appear to be comparable in terms of the incidence of autoimmune disease. There have also been general complaints that the studies are funded by the companies being sued over the effects of silicone implants. On the other hand, autoimmune diseases are much more common in women. Thus, the perception of cause and effect might actually be coincidental.

A large portion of the women with these symptoms who then opted to have their silicone implants removed discovered that their symptoms lessened or even disappeared after explantation of the implants. Some women had their silicone implants replaced by saline implants, which so far do not appear to be strongly correlated with either autoimmune or connective tissue diseases. However, many women are not happy with saline implants because they can cause skin wrinkling. Even saline implants are not completely devoid of problems. At least one case of toxic shock syndrome has been reported in connection with saline implants.

The Bottom Line
The decision to get breast implants is not one that should be made off-hand. While implants may have positive effects on one's appearance, they may also make one's breasts seem unnatural. The many health risks are also concerns that must be considered. Be careful when making your decision and make sure that you speak in depth with your surgeon to explore all of your options before committing to this augmentation surgery.

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