Mark Sisco, M.D.
501 Skokie Boulevard
Northbrook, IL 60062
Phone: (847) 504-2333
Monday: 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
Tuesday–Friday: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Breast Implant Illness: An Honest Appraisal
Over the past several years, increasing numbers of women have sought me out at my Northbrook plastic surgery practice to remove their breast implants for symptoms they attribute to “breast implant illness.” Most of them report a constellation of symptoms including fatigue, cognitive problems, hair and skin changes, and the like. Breast implants have been around for over fifty years, so it is hard to know whether this trend reflects a true increase in these symptoms or the effects of social media on women’s awareness and validation of each other’s experiences.
The Value of Breast Implants
Having devoted much of my career to post-mastectomy breast reconstruction and aesthetic breast surgery, I know that breast implants are an important tool to helping many women attain or regain comfort and confidence in their bodies. In the appropriate situation, I would recommend breast implants to a family member. I have performed over a thousand implant procedures with good follow up and to my knowledge, the vast majority of these women are doing quite well.
What Is Breast Implant Illness?
Based on my experience, I have no doubt that some women I see with symptoms of breast implant illness are having a very real physical reaction to their implants. But I also suspect that many are reacting to something else altogether—who hasn’t experienced greater fatigue or body aches as she ages? And I do not think it’s always possible to know for certain who will benefit from implant removal. While everyone feels better immediately, not everyone sustains this result long term. So it can be difficult to counsel women who are concerned about breast implant illness, especially when they are pleased with the results of their surgery.
What to Consider Before Having Your Implants Removed
Here are a few suggestions for women considering implant removal for breast implant illness:
- Be careful on the Internet. Social media is replete with echo chambers that disproportionately amplify certain opinions. Beware of people with agendas and know that body shaming applies even to those who have reconstructive procedures.
- See a few surgeons and recognize the financial conflict of interest that may exist. Beware of surgeons who offer you surgery before getting to know you and your situation.
- Seek someone who is willing and able to have a nuanced discussion of the risks, benefits, and alternatives of implant removal; one who can discuss the data and its flaws; one who believes in breast implant illness but acknowledges the harm (financial, physical, and psychosocial) that surgery can cause.
- Make sure you understand the benefits and drawbacks of different procedures, such as en-bloc capsulectomy, total capsulectomy, and implant removal alone, in the context of what outcomes and recovery to expect. Ask about drains and whether you’ll need a new or larger scar. Understand what tests (if any) your surgeon will run and what will be done with the implants.
- Ask about what kind of cosmetic outcome you can expect given your situation, and what alternatives to implants exist. Ask about a breast lift, about fat grafting. Maybe ask to see photos of “not so great” results.
- Finally, think candidly about your own personality and what role your body plays in shaping how you feel about yourself and your role in the world. Consider how you will feel if you have surgery and your symptoms do not resolve. What then?
More often than not, I find myself spending a fair amount of time trying to reassure women about their implants, because that’s what I think many of them need. But I am also quick to acknowledge that for some, removal is clearly the right answer. When the decision about whether to have surgery is based on a candid conversation, it usually turns out to be the right one.