Breast Implant Illness – fact or fiction?

Posted on Friday, 13 July 2018

Breast Implants Risks

You may have heard the term ‘breast implant illness’ and wondered how prevalent it is, writes Associate Professor Mark Magnusson, Specialist Plastic Surgeon and President of the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.  The term is not well defined and tends to be a capture-all phrase used by patients with a variety of symptoms that may be experienced by a woman after having breast implants inserted. It is particularly prevalent in social media where several large support groups exist.

I’ve heard and read women stating they’ve suffered toxicity from their breast implants which has caused symptoms such as fatigue/low energy, cognitive dysfunction (brain fog, memory loss), headaches, joint and muscle pain, hair loss, recurring infections, swollen lymph nodes and swollen glands, rashes, irritable bowel syndrome, and even problems with the thyroid and adrenals.  I wouldn’t want to trivialise anyone’s experience of these symptoms, but do note these can be caused by a large number of illnesses.  If however, a woman is concerned about her breast implants she should seek medical advice as to whether or not to have them removed.


Breast implant illness is much harder to define. There is no strong evidence, and in fact, very little evidence at all. There is no pathophysiological explanation, no hypothesis regarding how silicone could cause these problems and no diagnostic test.  There are however well-supported social media support groups for women with “breast implant illness” and many women who feel they are affected.  There are many millions of women with breast implants and in a group of that size, we would expect to see a broad array of unusual problems unrelated to breast implants. This problem has previously been investigated extensively in the 1990s during the silicone breast implant moratorium in the United States when no link was found.

There is no doubt that some patients just don’t co-exist comfortably with their implants.  This might be due to physical symptoms associated with scar tissue or from the additional weight and for others, they may have hard to define symptoms.  We can’t claim to know everything, and it may be that in the future we understand more.  Many women have their implants removed due to these concerns and some appear to be helped.


There are scientifically validated and well-documented issues associated with breast implants.  Such as capsular contracture, migration, implant rupture and even the rare association between textured breast implants and breast implant associated-Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).


It’s important to note that breast implants are medical devices.  They are not a lifetime solution and patients will need to have them removed and replaced at some future point in time.  Eight out of 10 women will still have their breast implants at 10 years and most will have had them operated on again by 15 years.  There are a variety of reasons for needing reoperation separate to implant-related problems that include changing the size or addressing other changes to the breast associated with pregnancy, weight fluctuations and time.

Patients should contact their original surgeon if they have any queries or concerns.  If the surgeon is no longer practising, you can find a new surgeon on our ASAPS member’s database.


So while the jury is still out on whether or not breast implant illness is fact or fiction, I can tell you that in this day and age breast implants are very safe when you are under the care of a Specialist Plastic Surgeon.  There is, however, a group of women that request the removal of their implants for a variety of reasons and some feel they have “breast implant illness”.  Of this latter group, some experience an improvement in their symptoms, but importantly not all.


ASAPS members are fully qualified Specialist Plastic Surgeons from Australia and New Zealand who are Fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons(FRACS), with expertise, experience and ongoing education in aesthetic surgery.  Our members only operate in accredited facilities so you can be assured they will follow the appropriate course of action to minimise the risk of infection.

Visit our member’s database to ensure you are in safe hands.


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