In this article:
- What are breast implants?
- Possible complications of breast implants
- The link between autoimmune Hashimoto’s and breast implants
- What is Breast Implant Illness?
Breast implants are a common solution women use to enhance their figures and self-confidence. Indeed, throughout history and across cultures, femininity, motherhood, fertility, sex appeal, and beauty have been celebrated through breasts. According to the National Center for Health Research, nearly 400,000 women undergo cosmetic breast surgery annually. For women with a thyroid condition, it is essential to be abreast (... pun intended) of the effects implants may have on your thyroid function and overall health.
What are breast implants?
Breast implants are medical devices used to increase breast size or reconstruct breasts from cancer, trauma, or developmental defects. Implants can either be placed under the breast tissue or behind the chest muscle. The FDA has approved two types of breast implants, both of which have a silicone shell: saline-filled and silicone gel-filled. Breast implants can vary in size, shell thickness, texture, and shape.
There are different brands of breast implants available on the market, and ingredients may vary based on the brand you use. Your surgeon should give you a complete list of ingredients that are in the implants and involved in creating the implants.
Silicone gel-filled breast implants are a popular choice because they tend to feel more natural. The silicone gel that is used in most breast implants today is medical-grade. The process for making silicone gel-filled breast implants is complex, and there are many steps to forming this type of implant. Along with silicone elastomer, you are likely to see platinum on the ingredients list as well, which helps cure the gel inside the shell and maintain softness.
Saline breast implants are filled with sterile saltwater and maintain a uniform shape. Saline implants tend to be more firm to touch compared to silicone implants, and their outer shell can either be textured or smooth. If a saline implant ruptures, your body will absorb and excrete the fluid.
Possible complications of breast implants
Surgery to augment breasts has been available for nearly 60 years. However, women have been inserting various forms of silicone in their breasts for decades. Since the first official plastic surgery to place breast implants, research has learned more about the longterm risks and complications of breast implants.
Some complications and risks of breast implants include:
- Complications secondary to surgery (such as anesthesia and bleeding)
- Changes to your nipples or breast sensitivity
- Incorrect positioning of the implant
- Rupture or leaking
- Capsular contracture
- Skin wrinkling
- Persistent pain and discomfort
- Revisional surgery due to pain, rupture, leakage, or other adverse symptoms
Studies are also investigating the relationship between silicone breast implants and autoimmune thyroiditis. Indeed, one of the greatest debates in plastic surgery medicine is whether or not breast implants increase a woman’s risk for, or severity of, an autoimmune disease.
The link between Hashimoto’s and breast implants
While there is more available data suggesting a positive correlation between breast implants and autoimmune diseases in general, science is only beginning to learn more about the relationship between Hashimoto’s and silicone. Some studies have found a small incidence of new-onset Hashimoto’s in women who have received silicone breast implants. While the rate is relatively low, it does beg for more research and understanding of how breast implants affect the thyroid.
Silicone breast implants can leak small amounts of silicone polymers in your body for many years before you may even be aware that your implants are leaking. Along with releasing silicone, your body can also be exposed to several other chemicals that, at higher levels, can be toxic to your body. Silicone has been linked to other autoimmune conditions, including fibromyalgia, lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Breast Implant Illness?
Physicians and women alike have coined the term “breast implant illness” (BII), and it is common in women who have had any breast implant (saline, silicone, textured, non-textured, etc.). Commonly, women with a personal or familial history of autoimmune conditions are more likely to seek treatment for BII. It is usually considered an autoimmune/inflammatory condition that looks different for each woman following augmentation or reconstructive surgery. Some symptoms of BII include:
- Brain fog
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep disturbance
- Chronic pain
- Hormonal imbalance
While BII has become a popular term that women and some physicians use to describe these symptoms that are perceived to be associated with breast implants, BII is not an official medical diagnosis. Currently, there is no scientifically proven link between breast implants and BII or Hashimoto’s disease.
Breast implants are not intended to be lifelong devices. The longer you have breast implants, the more likely you will need them removed, re-operated on, or develop an adverse reaction. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons recommends that patients who have compromised immune systems or autoimmune conditions should avoid breast augmentation. Indeed, because implants are considered foreign bodies, it is likely that your already compromised immune system may become more irritable.
Some women find that their autoimmune conditions improve once their breast implants are removed. If you are struggling to manage your thyroid symptoms, and you have breast implants, it can be beneficial to meet with your endocrinologist to discuss the possibility of your implants agitating your Hashimoto’s symptoms. For women who wish to have their breast implants removed, finding a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast implant removal can help lead to the best outcome.