Let’s Not Be Quick To Dismiss ‘Breast Implant Illness’

Breast Implant Illness, or BII, is so far little known in the UK but has exploded in the US in recent months.

Large numbers of women are becoming concerned that their breast implants are making them unwell, reporting a range of symptoms that include auto-immune diseases, allergies, migraine, chronic fatigue, joint pain, depression, heart and kidney problems and even hair loss.

But because there’s such a diverse range of symptoms it’s proving almost impossible to pin down. And this is causing deep divides and division.

In the absence of true evidence, the concerns of some patients are being dismissed while others are attributing BII to a form of social media hysteria or mass panic, where seemingly disparate symptoms are being conflated with concerns about breast implants.

But what is clear is that BII should not be swept under the carpet and we have to listen. Issues around
health cannot be trivialised and must always be taken seriously.

And while there may be some element of exaggeration through social media, there are also elements to the phenomena which demand investigation.

It’s my view that bacterial contamination could be at play.

A poorly executed surgery might result in bacteria contaminating the implant. You then get what’s called
a biofilm formation, where harmful microbial cells clump together on the surface.

Weeks, months or years later, this biofilm may open up, spreading infection.

And it’s this might explain some of the symptoms observed in BII patients. Through more stringent hygiene policies its possible BII could be eliminated.

It’s also my view there could be an allergic component to the mystery, too. Silicone itself is inert.

But just as some people are allergic to nickel or dog hair, there may be an allergic mechanism to compounds in the implant shell.

We certainly need much better science to properly understand any BII.

And there’s another issue.

England’s Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry (BCIR) was set up in 2016 as a response to the Poly Implant Prosthese (PIP) scandal, so that practitioners could easily trace anyone affected.

But the problem with the BCIR is that its voluntary – neither patients nor practitioners are required by
law to submit data.

Recent stats have shown that of the 305 organisations who registered to enter data, both NHS and independent organisations, 275 have done so.

I’d like to see submissions to the BCIR made mandatory and I’d encourage all patients to consent to the
submission of their data.

It’s only through databases like this we can carry out methodical, sophisticated research to try and answer the questions BII raise.

Christopher Inglefield

Christopher Inglefield is a a highly experienced Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon and Medical Director of London Bridge Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Clinic.
He is a member of the UK Association of Aesthetic Surgeons, World Professional Association for Transgender Health, British Burn Association, the British Microsurgical Society, the British Association of Surgical Oncology and the Royal Society of Medicine – Plastic Surgery.
Christopher Inglefield
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