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diagnosis

Breast implant illness

Diagnosis

Breast implant illness (BII) is another invisible condition with no definitive diagnosis or prescribed treatment. Many people in the medical profession aren’t even convinced it exists, yet thousands of people with breast implants have experienced autoimmune-like symptoms including fatigue, chest pain, rashes, memory loss, brain fog, headaches, and joint pain. If you deal with an invisible illness, this is probably a story you’ve heard before: We don’t know the full picture, there are lots of differing opinions…and also lots of people with symptoms. A quick 101 on breast implants to give you some context: Breast implants are medical devices made up of a silicone outer shell that’s either textured or smooth and filled with either silicone gel or salt water (saline). Lots (we’re talking hundreds of thousands) of implants are surgically placed each year. And just to be clear, lots of people don’t have any problems with their implants. Another important point: BII is not the same as the very rare immune-system cancer called BIA-ALCL, aka breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. This cancer is known to be caused by breast implants, and it has a high cure rate once the implant is removed. This might be the first you’re hearing about this topic, but health issues related to breast implants aren’t new at all. Reports of illness arose in the decades after implants started being used in the 1960s. Between 1992 and 2006, the FDA banned silicone-gel-filled breast implants except for reconstruction and “revision” (aka replacement) due to concerns that they might be linked to autoimmune conditions. When gel-filled implants were allowed back on the market, implant makers were required to do follow-up studies for safety and effectiveness. One study found associations between silicone-filled implants and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and scleroderma—results that were consistent with previously published studies. While the FDA disputed those findings, it has since acknowledged that some people may develop symptoms/pain caused by inflammatory responses and tissue changes when they’re exposed to certain materials in implantable devices. (That’s FDA-speak for “maybe there’s something to this....”) And it is working to establish a National Breast Implant Registry to collect data on breast implant safety that may help identify individual risk factors for complications. That’s a good thing—because if there’s anything more frustrating than developing mysterious symptoms, it’s developing mysterious symptoms that you might have been able to head off…if only you’d had more information. More info = better decisions! Ok, so what should you do if you have breast implants and suspect BII—or have any side effects that concern you? First, discuss them with your regular practitioner or the doctor who did your surgery. Depending on your symptoms, they might suggest that you consult a rheumatologist. It can be helpful to other women if you contact MedWatch, the FDA’s “adverse event” reporting program: call (1-800-FDA-1088) or check out the first website listed below. The ultimate solution is to have the implants removed and not replaced. Many women who’ve done that report that their symptoms improved afterwards. Also, if you’re starting to panic (or even feel anger—that’s normal too), remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. Not only should you lean on others, you should share your story, too. Once you find a group of people who get you (and you realize you’re not alone), it becomes easier to use your voice to call for answers about BII. If you feel passionate about this issue, go ahead and speak up! With any invisible illness, that’s the best way to advocate for greater recognition, research, and, eventually (hopefully) a cure.

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