By Catherine Ann Buckler
The number of women getting breast implants is on the rise, but researchers are finding cosmetic surgery can lead to life-threatening side effects.
Women get breast implants for many reasons. To confirm their identity, femininity. To improve their confidence after breastfeeding. Because their husbands ask them to. Because they think they will like themselves better. Because they want to.
The reason women get breast implants is sometimes inconsequential, and sometimes important when considering the seemingly inevitable life-long and life-threatening effects implants can have on their bodies.
Consider where breast implants are stationed, on the chest, which is a major “cross road” of the body. You have the rib cage, lungs, heart and even a major artery that feeds blood back into the heart.
A few months or weeks—sometimes even years—after what is usually a painful recovery, the complications begin. Physically, this may include chest pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, swollen lymph nodes. Mentally, it can include depression and anxiety; patients of implant surgery report forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating—otherwise known as “brain fog.”
Complications resulting from breast implants are not new, they are just not heard. Those various complications fall under the umbrella of Breast Implant Illness.
For most of these women, the cause for their malaise remains unknown. For others, they might be lucky enough to come across a Facebook page titled “Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole.” It is run by Nicole Daruda.
To date, the Facebook page currently has over 82,000 members, and seems to be growing every day. It serves as a safe space for women to post pictures before and after their explants, to ask one another for tips on dealing with pain and other symptoms, and to inquire about any unknown or unfamiliar symptoms.
There are also sections in the group for “literature” on the Breast Implant Illness, ruptured implants, getting ready to get back to work, and even support from the community when romantic partners and family members do not support the explant process.
It touches on the emotional issues associated with Breast Implant Illness, amid the women dealing with a series of clinicians and technical discussions and appointments.
The condition is less of a set of symptoms, and rather an umbrella term for the side effects implants can inflict. Most women do not even know they have it — doctors diagnose them with something else, usually not even considering their implants might be the cause.
Nicole Daruda had her implants for eight years, until she explanted in 2013. Her story is similar to many others featured on her Facebook group. She had fatigue, chronic infections, thyroid problems, and even kidney problems so severe she landed in the emergency room.
But since the symptoms were not localized to her breasts, it took her about six years to correlate her pain to her implants after the lymph nodes around her breasts became swollen. She came across what she refers to as “the original obscure information…about breast implant associated lymphoma” on the FDA’s website.
That search began the grassroots movement of women banding together, with Nicole’s online community at the forefront.
Dr. Pierre Blais, a research chemist and expert in the biocompatibility of implant materials, has spoken in front of Health Canada on the effects of implants. He is a specialist in researching materials used in surgery design of several specialized classes. This includes studying how materials from internal devices like cochlear implants and radiographic equipment interact with tissue and living systems. He says he has been involved in breast implant pathology for over 50 years.
Something that makes Blais unique in the medical world is the fact that he even acknowledges the existence of BII. Most medical practitioners do not know about it, or do not recognize it as a real ailment.
Dr. Blais says getting sick from implants is almost inevitable, and he says those who say they are not sick just have not had them in long enough, even if they do not have any genetic dispositions that may speed up a reaction to the implants sooner.
“The impact is the same, it is only a matter of time…the implants, as a matter of time, become encompassed and enclosed with very hard, very compressive tissue. And as a result, an implant which may have the shape of breast, becomes round like a sphere,” Dr. Blais said.
As a now round implant, it applies pressure on two to three ribs, and those ribs will cave in due to that pressure, on the lungs. It continues to progress, as the ribs cave in, the muscles between the ribs can perforate, forming holes. These holes can create a space between the rib cage and lung lining.
“At that point, the patient is very sick,” Dr. Blais says, “[the patient] has what is perceived as a permanent upper respiratory problems.” He says this is the “ultimate form of the disease, because when the ribs cave in, the entire area is calcified.”
Blais likens the calcified area to a turtle shell; except this ‘shell’ is actually deteriorated tissue, minus the tissue itself, and leaving only the inorganic material remains “like plaster.”
A common misconception about implants is that they have improved. Textured, silicone-filled implants have been replaced by misnomered “saline implants.” Now, there is saline in them, but the outside shell is still silicone.
The solution, according to Daruda, is not to hope for an implant ban–that would be near to impossible. Rather, the best case scenario is informed consent before surgery. Similar to cigarettes, this approach would be more transparent about the consequences of silicone and other implant materials entering the body. Just this time, patients will know what they are risking beforehand.
But moreover, Daruda says the heart of the issue goes bigger than just implants.
“This constant drive and oversexualization of women is trivializing us as sexual objects,” says Daruda. “That’s not our role. We have a misperception, our thinking about beauty is incorrect. And that’s what I’m going to change. Breast implants are a symbol, but I realized that the root of the problem is that there are a bunch of false concepts in society.”