What is breast implant illness?
BII is not currently a recognized medical condition in terms of diagnosis.
This article will examine the current research on BII and breast implant safety.
There are no current diagnostic criteria for BII.
Those with breast implants who report BII often describe numerous symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- chest pain
- chronic pain
- hair loss
- hormonal concerns
- neurological disturbances
- problems sleeping
- sensitivity to light and sun
- unexplained fatigue
Most of these symptoms come from anecdotal reports, including discussions in internet groups and reports in news articles.
Because doctors do not consider BII to be an official medical illness, there are currently no diagnostic criteria.
Because doctors do not officially recognize BII as a medical illness, it is hard to say what could cause it.
For example, doctors do not know if those with certain medical conditions are more likely to experience BII.
Some of the proposed causes of BII include:
- the body's inflammatory reaction to a foreign object
- the body's reaction to specific components of breast implants, such as silicone
- the body's response to particular approaches to the insertion of breast implants and surgical techniques
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report that people who link their health concerns with BII often experience a resolution of their symptoms if they have a surgeon remove their implants. The person usually does not replace the implant.
Is BII real?
Researchers, plastic surgeons and their professional medical organizations, and the FDA are closely monitoring the potential existence of BII.
Some recently published systematic reviews investigating BII and breast implant safety have shed some light on the matter.
For example, a study in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery concludes that there is no association between breast implants and an increased risk of depression or neurologic disease. These are two symptoms that reportedly occur as a result of BII.
A study paper that appears in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed the results of 32 studies regarding breast implants and health concerns.
The researchers found no evidence from existing studies to suggest that silicone gel implants led to long term health complications. However, they reiterate the importance of further studies into breast implants to ensure their safety.
Currently, researchers do not have enough data to confirm that BII is real. The present data seem to suggest that breast implants do not cause BII-like symptoms.
However, another article in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery called for researchers to enroll people with BII-like symptoms in their studies. This may help determine if there are any links between implants and illness.
Are breast implants safe?
Experiencing an adverse reaction to a breast implant is rare.
According to the FDA, the risks of complications or adverse outcomes due to breast implants is around 1%.
Known complications that breast implants can cause include:
- breast pain
- changes in sensation to the breast and nipple
- scar tissue around the implant causing pain, tightness, or an altered appearance
- delayed healing
- rupture or tearing
Medical professionals have recently identified a rare form of cancer called breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). This is a rare but treatable form of lymphoma that usually stays within the scar tissue around the implant.
BIA-ALCL tends to develop after the implants have been in place for a few years. The first sign might be one of the breasts suddenly swelling or becoming hard and painful. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, people with textured breast implants are more likely to develop this type of cancer.
Based on 573 known cases and 33 deaths worldwide, the current lifetime risk of BIA-ALCL is around 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 86,000, depending on the kind of implant and the manufacturer.
When a doctor is able to diagnose BIA-ALCL early, they will suggest the removal of the implant and the scar tissue around it.
According to the FDA, the longer the implants remain in the body, the higher the risk of complications.
For this reason and others, around 20% of people with breast implants choose to have them removed within 8–10 years of their surgery, according to the FDA.
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if they have concerns about their breast implants, including concerns regarding their appearance, pain level, or any other symptoms.
A person can also ask their surgeon if their symptoms are potentially related to implants or are due to another cause.
If a person thinks they may have BII or another serious medical concern related to their breast implants, they should contact the FDA. They can do so by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or visiting MedWatch, the FDA's reporting program.
No current evidence exists to suggest that BII is a documented medical illness.
However, researchers and doctors are always monitoring breast implants and other medical devices for their safety. They will continue to track potential illness patterns to determine if BII is a diagnosable condition.