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Breast Implant Illness (BII) – a Rare but Real Problem

After getting breast implants, some women experience symptoms including fatigue, hypothyroidism, gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune symptoms, joint pain, and more. Only some of these women have capsular contracture and are visibly  “reacting” to their implants, and we see many of these women who decide to have their implants removed. As a group, we are dedicated to working with these patients to uncover the underlying cause of the BII. Over 50% of these patients carry biofilms, and specimens taken from these patients at the time of surgery are positive for different varieties of bacteria. Keep in mind this is not an infection, but bacteria that is living on the implant surface. Despite that the bacteria are not causing an abscess, fever, or pus, they can cause inflammation and burden the immune system, especially in patients prone to inflammation and oxidative stress. To diagnose the biofilm, cultures are obtained during surgery with sterile technique from a direct capsule specimen and did not touch the skin surface. Note there is a lot of P. Acnes, which is usually known for its involvement in facial acne. Notorious for causing inflammation, we are not surprised to find it in some of our most symptomatic patients. Surgical removal of the implant for BII (breast implant illness) involves removal of the entire capsule (capsulectomy). There has been a debate about whether this is necessary or not, but those of us that are veterans in the field have found positive cultures in capsule remnants where implants have been removed with prior surgery. Therefore it important to remove the whole capsule. We also find silicone and silicone granulomas in capsules frequently, even in patients who do not have ruptured implants. Typically the incision is made under the breast (in the inferior mammary crease), although the areola can be used as well. Removal can be “en bloc”, which involves a larger incision, or whole component, which means the implant is removed, then the capsule is removed. Most patients prefer the smaller scar of the component removal, which can be performed without spillage of implant or capsule contents. With implants placed under the pectoral muscle, the pectoral muscle must ALWAYS be repaired. Leaving the pectoral muscle with the cut from the original augmentation can result in pec flex deformity, which can be deforming. Reconnecting the pectoral muscle with the rib surface both repairs and strengthens the muscle to its original position. For women who want to maintain fullness in the breast we often combine fat grafting with implant removal or an internal lift to maintain fullness and create and restore beautiful, natural breast shape. Many of our patients with BII find that their symptoms improve after removal of their implants. Cassileth, LisaLisa Cassileth, MD, FACS Founder, Cassileth Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Founder, Bedford Breast Center Clinical Assistant Professor, UCLA Chief, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Division of Plastic Surgery, 2013-2018 Medical Director, 436 Beverly Hills Surgery Center