About Breast Implant Illness
Breast implant illness is characterized by chronic negative health effects resulting from implantation of silicone or saline breast implants. Symptoms of breast implant illness vary from person to person due to genetics (MTHFR, HLA-B27, HLA-DR52, and HLA-DR53), pre-existing autoimmune disease, type of implants, progression of illness, use of mammograms, and trauma. First signs of illness tend to include the following common symptoms: fatigue, cognitive dysfunction (brain fog, memory loss), muscle aches, joint pain, hair loss, dryness throughout the body, recurring infections, gastrointestinal and digestive issues, rashes, food and chemical sensitivities, anxiety, and problems with thyroid and adrenals. Essentially what is occurring is artificial disturbance and interference within the body, starting with the immune system, then consequently affecting other systems and eventually creating a cascade of systemic dysregulation. It is a very multifaceted illness. Symptoms are widespread and can be related to the chronic foreign body response and inflammation, oxidative stress, biofilm, and toxicity (silicone, heavy metal, chemical, biotoxin).
Signs & Symptoms:
Fatigue or chronic fatigue
Cognitive dysfunction (brain fog, difficulty concentrating, word retrieval, memory loss)
Muscle aches, pain, and weakness
Joint pain and soreness
Dry skin, eyes, mouth, hair
Weight gain or weight loss
Easy bruising and slow healing of wounds
Ringing in the ears
Shortness of breath
Metallic taste in the mouth
Oral thrush (white tongue)
Estrogen/progesterone imbalance, diminishing hormones, or early menopause
Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the breast area, underarms, throat, neck, or groin
Tingling or numbness in the arms and legs
Burning pain around the chest wall or breasts
Cold and discolored hands and feet
Foul body odor
Chronic neck and back pain
Nail changes (cracking, splitting, slow growth, etc.)
Skin freckling, pigmentation changes (darkening or white spots), or an increase in papules (flesh colored raised bumps)
Edema (swelling) around eyes
Decline in vision or vision disturbances
Slow muscle recovery after activity
Liver and kidney dysfunction
Gastrointestinal and digestive issues
Sudden food intolerances and allergies
Smell or chemical sensitivities
New or persistent infections – viral, bacterial, and/or fungal (candida)
Reoccurring sinus, yeast, and UTI infections
Throat clearing, cough, difficult swallowing, choking feeling
Feeling like you are dying
Headaches, dizziness, and migraines
Mood swings, emotional instability
Anxiety, panic attacks
Hypo/hyper thyroid symptoms
Hypo/hyper adrenal symptoms
Symptoms or diagnosis of fibromyalgia
Symptoms or diagnosis of lyme
Common autoimmune symptoms or diagnoses: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjörgen’s syndrome, Raynaud’s syndrome, Graves disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Breast implants commonly affect the following systems:
- Metabolic (fatigue)
- Neurological (cognitive dysfunction)
- Endocrine (thyroid, adrenal, sex hormones, ADH)
- Immune (viral, fungal, bacterial infections, and formation autoantibodies)
- Digestive & Gastrointestinal (dysbiosis, leaky gut, malabsorption, food intolerances)
If you have symptoms of breast implant illness, please report them all to the FDA through the MedWatch Online Voluntary Reporting Form.
Breast implants (1) stimulate a chronic foreign body inflammatory response, (2) they have a slow leakage of silicone/heavy metals/chemicals termed as “gel bleed,” (3) commonly develop biofilm/bacteria on their surfaces, and (4) as polymeric biomaterials they oxidize in the body and contribute to degradative oxidative stress. With saline there is also the added element that many of the saline valves are permeable and allow body fluid/tissue in and allow colonization of microorganisms inside the implant. These microorganisms produce metabolites which are toxic to us known as biotoxins.
Breast implants are large foreign bodies that interfere and weaken the immune system, triggering immune dysfunction and often auto-immune symptoms. The weakened immune system then allows opportunistic pathogens to take a foothold. The body is left vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other invaders that it would normally be able to defend against, causing serious infections and reactivating dormant viruses. Additionally, the implants are made out of a concoction of neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals that slowly breakdown and accumulate in the body, causing an overload of toxicity. All implant shells are made out of silicone and are semi-permeable. Upon implantation they release heavy metals, silicone, and chemicals that can migrate and be stored throughout the body. Silicone is an adjuvant and an endocrine disruptor. It is an internal irritant that has the ability to modulate immune, endocrinological, and neurotransmitter functions. The silicone that leaks out of breast implants is in the low molecular form which is very toxic to the body. Its widespread effects induce silicone toxicity and can impair many functions. The exposure to toxic chemicals causes immune disruption (autoimmunity, allergies, recurring infections), accelerated aging, neurological symptoms, and more.
Overall, the chronic stress of the foreign body reaction, silicone toxicity, heavy metal exposure, and gel bleed result in a weakened immune system, buildup of implant toxins, free radicals inducing oxidative stress, and vulnerability to opportunistic pathogens (bacteria, fungi, parasites). Immune dysfunction allows opportunistic pathogens to grow out of control (ex. candida) and for dormant viruses to reactivate (Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, etc). A cascade of systemic dysregulation eventually develops. In addition, saline implants can have faulty valves and cultivate mold and microorganisms. Detoxification can be increasingly impaired as the liver, kidneys, and other excretory organs struggle to remove toxins. The body goes into a systemic state of chronic inflammation. All of this adds up to a slowly developing chronic debilitating illness affecting many organ systems of the body.
When do breast implants cause illness:
Breast implant illness occurs in both saline and silicone implants and is a very multifaceted illness. Breast implants are large foreign objects that overwhelm and weaken the immune system, eventually creating a cascade of dysregulation in the body that may include autoantibodies and autoimmune diseases, endocrine dysfunction, thyroid/adrenal problems, gut dysbiosis, and more. Essentially they are immune provoking foreign bodies that indwell and deteriorate in the body, therefore it is not a matter of if you will get sick, it is a matter of when you will get sick. An overburden of toxicity manifests itself in inflammation and other health issues.
Leakage, ruptures, and shell degradation can increase symptoms. Implants have 40+ toxic chemicals, various silicones of different molecular weights, and many heavy metals (such as mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, platinum, and more). Intact implants have semi-permeable shells and leak gel bleed of low molecular compounds from the time they are implanted, as written in FDA documents.1 Chemist, Dr. Pierre Blais, states “the devices act as time release systems for pharmacologically active compounds.” Natural shell degradation through hydrolysis, oxidation, enzymatic degradation, physical degradation, diffusion of gel bleed, absorption of proteins, pH and acidity, biofilm formation, etc. affect the stability and integrity of the polymeric implant surfaces. The shells become weaker and more vulnerable to increased degradation and rupture as they age.
Differences in individuals and in implant quality can affect the degradation rates. However, the body will always attempt to break down anything placed in it and degradation will always be occurring, increasing with age (generally around 6-8 years it speeds up). This is why some women do not experience symptoms until years down the road, while for others it happens very quickly. It may depend on how much toxins are being released and how well your body is at excreting toxins. One study done on 415 women with breast implants found the latency period between the initial implant surgery and appearance of symptoms to be 1 to 4 years.2
The cohesive gel breast implants have particularly aggressive chemicals and heavy metals, the first symptoms seem to show up fairly early. In a manufacturer study, a cohesive gel implant was analyzed in-vitro for 120 days to inspect gel bleed and found low molecular weight siloxanes and platinum permeated out of the shell, these may contribute to symptoms early on.3 Toxins eventually accumulate and overload our detoxification pathways.
Identifying breast implant illness:
There is no single test to diagnose breast implant illness therefore the signs and symptoms can be used to recognize the pattern of clinical characteristics prevalent with breast implants. A caution on the physical examination is that the patients often look well while feeling terrible. It is an invisible illness that often goes undetected or misdiagnosed. Chemical poisoning, silicone toxicity, heavy metal toxicity, and biotoxicity are often underlying factors. The “classic” autoimmune symptoms generally do not apply here, autoantibodies are often detected but symptoms and tests do not follow classical autoimmune criteria. Some experts have said that this is an illness of its own.4 Unfortunately plastic surgeons will not help in identifying breast implant illness and much of the medical community will refute it. Environmental medicine doctors tend to have more experience in identifying the toxic effects that occur.
Two studies that collectively detail the clinical features and physical examinations of over 700+ women with breast implants are:
- “A Case Series Survey of Silicone Breast Implant Patients“
- “Chronology of Systemic Disease Development in 300 Symptomatic Recipients of Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implants.”
Additionally, the article “Destiny Rides Again: the Reappearance of Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implant Toxicity” by rheumatologist and silicone toxicity expert Dr. Arthur Brawer was published in January 2017 and details the symptoms of the new generation of cohesive silicone gel-filled breast implants. See here for the full scientific article. In 2018, Dr. Brawer released “Case Report: Silicone is not fun in the sun.”
In July 2017, the article “Breast Implant Illness: Symptoms, Patient Concerns, and the Power of Social Media” was published by Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery (Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons). Under Article Tools click on ‘Article as PDF.’
Explant and Recovery:
“I would say that most patients recover their illness, recover their health after a proper explantation. Percentage? I would put it at over 75%.” – Dr. Lu-Jean Feng (Webinar Transcript, pg. 7)
Explant is the most important step, it removes the underlying triggers that have been interfering with your body. Proper explant is done through an En Bloc or Total Capsulectomy procedure, where there is full capsule removal. Following explant surgery, the next steps are to repair any depleted nutrients and systems while also simultaneously removing toxins accumulated by the implants (detoxification). Altogether this forms healing, the process of becoming healthy again.