People choose to have breast implants for many reasons that include increasing the size of the breasts, altering their shape, or making them appear evener.

A breast implant operation is usually carried out with the person under general anesthetic and takes between 60 and 90 minutes.

A surgeon will cut the skin either at the bottom of the areola or below the breast, dissect out a pocket under the breast and possibly the pectoralis (push up) muscle, and position the implant. They will then stitch the cut back up before covering it with a dressing.

A person should not take the decision to have breast implants lightly. Not only can it be an expensive procedure, but it is essential to know that the results are not guaranteed.

Also, there are possible risks and complications. In this article, we take a look at some common complications and the symptoms that breast implants can cause.

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Swelling, bruising, and temporary pain may be side effects of breast implant surgery.

After surgery, recovery time is needed to help the cut to heal and the body to adjust. Typical side effects of breast implant surgery include:

  • temporary pain
  • swelling and bruising
  • a feeling of tightness in the chest

A person can experience a feeling of tightness for a few weeks after the surgery.

Breast implant surgery does carry risks. There are times where it does not go as planned or people experience complications and problems afterward.

The most common breast implant complications include:

  • thick, noticeable scarring that does not fade
  • hardening of the breast tissue, due to scar tissue shrinking around the implant
  • a rupture where the implant leaks that can cause small lumps called silicone granulomas to form
  • noticeable creases or folds in the implant
  • rotation of the implant within the breast
  • “rippling” of the implant, if a thin layer of tissue covers the implant and sticks to the implant surface
  • infection that will usually require removal of the implant
  • being unable to breast-feed or producing less breast milk than before
  • being dissatisfied with the results and requiring a further operation
  • nerve damage to the nipples

Nerve damage can make someone’s nipples feel more sensitive, less sensitive, or they may lose feeling entirely. The damage may only be temporary for some women, but it can be permanent in others.

Other, less common complications of breast implant surgery include:

  • excessive bleeding during surgery
  • an allergic reaction to the anesthetic
  • a blood clot forming in the veins deep in the body

An immune system cell cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma or ALCL is also linked to breast implants. This type of cancer is extremely rare but has been found in a small number of women who had breast implant surgery.

ALCL is usually found several years after the implant has been placed, and it is typically detected after the person notices a new swelling of one of the breasts where there is an implant.

In these cases, fluid has then been found around the implant, and on testing of the fluid, cancer cells have been detected.

A mammogram, which is an X-ray used for detecting breast cancer, may also be less accurate when performed on women with breast implants. Additional views or images are needed to screen breasts that have implants.

Different implants come with various risks, and so it is crucial for a person to research the type of implants available, their possible side effects and complications, and to choose which one suits them best.

Silicone gel implants

These implants are less likely to wrinkle than saline implants. The polyurethane-coated type is claimed to lessen the risk of implant rotation or scar tissue affecting the implant’s shape.

However, if a soft gel silicone implant ruptures, the silicone may spread into the breast, causing silicone granulomas. The implant will need to be removed if it ruptures. Polyurethane-coated implants can also provoke a temporary skin reaction.

While the newer silicone implants are less likely to leak silicone into the breast if they do rupture, it is difficult to determine when they have. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to screen for implant rupture 3 years after they are first placed, and then every 2 years after.

This screening MRI is not usually covered by insurance. Implants are said to have a lifespan of 10–15 years and will usually need to be replaced in one’s lifetime at least once.

Saline solution implants

These implants contain a salt-water saline solution, which can be safely absorbed or ejected by the body if the implants rupture.

As the saline solution will leak out of the shell, it is much easier to detect if the device has ruptured. The affected breast will suddenly seem smaller than the opposite side.

Since they are less firm than silicone, these implants are thought to be more prone to wrinkling or folding.

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Complications to look out for may include redness of the skin and unusual swelling that does not go down.

Early signs that something may have gone wrong with breast implant surgery include:

  • redness of the skin around the breast
  • unusual swelling that does not go down
  • a burning sensation

If a person notices any of the above symptoms, they should immediately contact the clinic where the operation took place.

If a person is concerned that the operation was not carried out correctly or is unhappy with the results of the surgery, they should contact the surgeon who performed the procedure.

While the majority of breast implant operations go smoothly, there are risks associated with the procedure.

The following complications occur in at least 1 percent of breast implant patients at any time. Some of these complications will require medical treatment or further surgery to correct them:

  • asymmetry regarding shape, size, or level of the breasts
  • pain in the nipple or breast area
  • breast tissue atrophy, where the breast tissue loses its substance
  • breast skin thinning and shrinking
  • calcium deposits forming as hard lumps under the skin around the implant
  • the scar tissue around an implant tightening, and the breast hardening
  • a deformity of the chest wall or rib cage
  • deflation due to a leak, tear, or cut
  • the cut not healing properly
  • skin breaking down to reveal the breast implant through the skin
  • blood collecting near the surgical site, causing painful swelling and bruising
  • the tissue or implant becoming damaged by the surgery
  • infection, such as toxic shock syndrome
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • the implant incorrectly positioned in the breast
  • skin or tissue death around the breast, usually due to infection
  • a hole or tear forming in the implant
  • buildup of fluid around the implant that can cause pain, swelling, and bruising
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Breast implants may interfere with future breast-feeding.

Breast implants do not come with a lifetime guarantee. Complications can occur at any time, which may result in it being necessary to remove them.

If complications do occur, corrective surgery may be necessary, and the results of this surgery may be unsatisfactory.

A person who is considering breast surgery should weigh up the pros and cons of having implants and evaluate any risks. They should think about whether it is worth getting the surgery done and how they would feel and cope if complications did occur.

Up to 20 percent of women who decide to have breast implant surgery have them removed within 8 to 10 years.

If implants are removed and not replaced, the breasts may appear puckered, saggy, and dimply.

A woman should also consider if she wants any future children and whether she wishes to breast-feed. Breast implants may potentially interfere with breast-feeding because breast tissue and milk-producing glands are manipulated during the procedure.

Women may wish to have breast implants to help achieve what they perceive to be a more cosmetically attractive size, shape, or level to their breasts. However, it is vital that women who decide to go ahead have fully understood the potential risks and complications.

While most breast implant operations go smoothly, there is a chance that things could go wrong either during the procedure or any time after it, as long as the implants remain.

Researching the surgeon, the procedure, and any potential risks will ensure that a woman can make the most informed decision about whether to get breast implants or not.