In December 2010, I got breast implants. In January 2021, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Sadly, I now believe these two events are related.
I have spoken openly about my choice to get plastic surgery and advised others to consider their reasons, do their research, and forge ahead with what they believe is best for them. Now, in addition to feeling personally bad myself, I am horrified by the idea that I might have encouraged someone out there to undergo a procedure that caused unnecessary illness.
Today, I need the correct the record based on what I’ve recently learned.
Why would someone get implants?
Women get breast implants for varied reasons, including:
- Unusually flat chest
- Unevenly sized breasts
- Extreme sagging
- Misshapen breasts
- Reconstruction after mastectomy
Yes, some women with perfectly fine breasts just go bigger, but it’s not as high a percentage as many believe. Most of the women I know who got implants had other reasons too.
What were my reasons for getting implants? Well, I was in the unusually flat chest department. Here’s why I did it:
- Feeling like a woman. When I was 39, my breasts looked 13. The rest of me was a woman, and I simply wanted my chest to display who I was internally.
- Fitting into clothes. I cannot begin to tell you how much easier it is to buy clothes with breasts proportionate to the rest of my body.
- Intimate engagement. Thankfully, my husband already saw me as more than enough. But the implants pushing my own tissue forward allowed more involvement of my breasts in affection and lovemaking.
For ten years, I had no regrets. But last October, I began experiencing health problems.
Do implants cause illness?
Most women who’ve gotten breast implants will never experience such issues, but a few will. An increasing body of evidence in recent years suggests that “silicone bleed” in the body increases the risk of autoimmune diseases and/or the diffuse range of symptoms that mimic known autoimmune diseases.
Some women will actually receive a diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, like me with rheumatoid arthritis. Others will have inconclusive results, and yet know deep down they are sick.
A growing number of women have spoken up about their symptoms, and in response, some researchers and doctors are looking into “breast implant illness.”
What is breast implant illness?
Breast Implant Illness (BII) is the current term used to describe a range of symptoms that occur in those who’ve received breast implants. As of this writing, it’s not a medical diagnosis, but rather an area of discussion and research. We’re still in the information-gathering stage, but enough women have experienced problems that it warrants attention, concern, and perhaps action for those suffering.
What are typical symptoms of BII?
- chronic fatigue
- joint and muscle pain
- memory and concentration problems (“brain fog”)
- breathing difficulties
- sleep disturbance
- rashes and skin problems
- dry mouth and dry eyes
- anxiety / depression
- hair loss
- gastrointestinal problems
(List from What Is Breast Implant Illness? breastcancer.org.)
Now these symptoms can certainly occur with other illnesses, so having them doesn’t mean you have BII. Like any medical issue, you need to investigate possible causes, rule out issues, and pursue the right diagnosis as best you can.
In my own situation, I went through physical exams, X-ray, MRI, bloodwork, Covid-19 tests (including antibody), and several more screenings to finally arrive at a rheumatologist saying, “You have the requisite markers of mild rheumatoid arthritis” (RA). I followed up with my own research as well and concluded this diagnosis is very likely correct.
[Note: As part of my own health journey, I discovered obstructive sleep apnea, which I’m having treated as well. So it’s not all RA or BII-related.]
What should you know before getting implants?
Above all, breast implant candidates should be screened for autoimmune issues.
In addition to knowing your whys for wanting implants, I now believe that every woman should be screened for autoimmune issues through medical history, family history, and bloodwork. For instance, I had pseudothrombocytopenia for more 20+ years; that’s a tendency for my platelets to clump that’s not problematic in itself but has been linked to autoimmune diseases. That condition might have shown up with a proper history and bloodwork, making me an inappropriate candidate for breast augmentation involving silicone.
Allergies can also be a precursor for breast implant patients who experience autoimmune issues. Allergies, autoimmune disease, and fibromyalgia were deemed risk factors in research conducted by immunologists (see testimony before the FDA here).
You should know that augmentation options currently include:
- Silicone implants, which are now a gummy-like substance. The silicone won’t leak into your body like prior implants did, but some silicone may slough off (“bleed”) and a rupture could cause even more spread.
- Saline implants with silicone shells. Yes, there’s less silicone involved so they might be safer, but plenty of women now experiencing BII symptoms used saline.
- Natural augmentation, using fat cell replacement. In this procedure, a plastic surgeon liposuctions fat cells from one area of your body (tummy, thigh, etc.) and moves them to your breast. It’s not an option if you don’t have sufficient fat cells, and the increase in breast size is maybe a cup.
Each of these has advantages and disadvantages, which I cannot cover entirely here, but I encourage you to do your homework, ask questions, and follow up if you have any issues or concerns.
You should also know that the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recommends periodic imaging (MRI or ultrasound) of silicone gel-filled breast implants, with the first screening at 5-6 years after initial implant and every 2-3 years thereafter. (See also Saline, Silicone Gel, and Alternative Breast Implants – Guidance for Industry and Food and Drug Administration Staff (fda.gov).)
Why not screen for saline implant ruptures? Well, if your saline implant ruptures, the saline leaks out and your breast deflates. But there is still that silicone shell, so perhaps the FDA will introduce some screening for that at some point.
Anyway, if you get implants or have them now, you can and should do some follow-up to make sure everything is a-okay.
But this feels unfair!
When I started researching breast implants, I was taken aback by how many women got them to just feel normal. What I saw in media was the supermodels, actresses, and reality TV celebrities sporting unrealistic boobs. Even what I saw in my own community was often women with breasts lifted up, pushed out, and on display in low-cut tops.
But what I saw online, and since I had my augmentation and discussions with others, was that a lot of wives privately got implants simply to even out breasts, lift drooping boobs, or be a reasonable size. They weren’t getting them to feel boobalicious, but to simply feel normal.
If that’s you, I wish I could hug you. I know what it feels like.
And far be it from me to challenge the Word of God, but I have a question for Him at some point. In Song of Songs 8:8, the wife says: “We have a little sister, and her breasts are not yet grown.” A couple verses later, she says, “I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment.” I once read that passage and sobbed, because even at age 25, I felt like the little sister with not-yet-grown breasts rather than the woman with tower breasts bringing contentment to her husband. For a book that talks so much about our worth to God and others, why is that passage there, making too many women feel not enough? I really would like to know.
Let me encourage you to reach out to me if you need a virtual hug, a shoulder to cry on, a reminder that God really does love and value you. If I believe that God loves and values every single person, including every disabled, mentally challenged, and diseased person—and I certainly do—then of course I believe that I’m beautiful with or without boobs. So are you, my dear sister!
But I also know the grief you feel, and I just acknowledge that. You are precious as you are, but it is also frustrating to have this issue, when it seems it should be improvable.
An apology and a plea
When I got my implants in 2010, this research was not out there. I did my due diligence at the time and spoke from what I had learned. Believe me, I spent at least 50 hours investigating implants—size and appearance, surgery process, and yes, safety. I took nearly a year to make the decision to get the implants, chose a high-quality plastic surgeon, trusted the evidence I’d seen at that point, and felt good about the result. We do the best we can with what we know, right?
Yet, I feel the heavy burden of having advised others. In speaking about the importance of our words, James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Ouch. Did I teach someone—even a single individual—to do something that returned harm to them? All I can say at this point is that I’m sorry.
I don’t believe implants are the wrong decision for everyone. They are the right decision for some. The incidence of breast implant illness is perhaps only 1.4 to 2% of implant patients. But that’s still a risk.
So you should be careful, get screened for autoimmune issues before implantation, do your homework and discuss any concerns with your physician, and receive periodic follow-up after.
And if you have developed an autoimmune disease and/or experience several of these symptoms, perhaps you should see a physician. I’m working on my own decision tree for where to go from here.
I’m going to end with possibly embarrassing my husband by sharing what he wrote to me after we slowly peeled back all these layers and decided the implants might be an issue.
I think you should have them explanted…. At the end of the day, you are all I need. And right now, the disease has chased you away.“Spock” Parker
Hubbies, if you’re reading, take a cue from from that right there. With that attitude, my intimacy with my beloved is intact, and whatever their size or shape, this wife’s breasts will satisfy her husband always (Proverbs 18:19).
You can find a lot of stuff about Breast Implant Illness now online—some of it well-supported and some not. Below are sources I believe are trustworthy. Use your own discernment as you search for information and understanding.
What Is Breast Implant Illness? (breastcancer.org)
Largest-Ever Study Shows Silicone Breast Implants Associated with Rare Diseases | MD Anderson Cancer Center
Resources | BISA Nonprofit (breastimplantsafetyalliance.org)
Breast Implant Illnesses: What’s the Evidence? | National Center for Health Research
Medical Device Reports for Systemic Symptoms in Women with Breast Implants | FDA