In a perfect world, breast implants would last forever.

In the real world, however, the likelihood of a rupture or leak increases over time. If it happens to you, Costhetics wants to be sure you know exactly what to do.

Be on the Lookout for Breast Implant Ruptures and Leaks

If you suspect your implant may have ruptured, contact your surgeon immediately. This is especially vital if you are:

  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Have a fever
  • Develop a rash

Ultrasounds and MRIs can determine whether something is amiss with your implant or whether you should put your mind at ease. (That being said, a rupture may not show up or an intact implant may appear to be ruptured on an MRI.) If your breast implant has failed, your doctor can help you decide what to do next and when.

Silent ruptures are usually not considered medical emergencies. Still most surgeons recommend a ruptured implant be removed and replaced promptly once detected to prevent further complications.  Self-diagnosing an implant rupture isn’t always easy. Unfortunately, Australia has no hard and fast rules for monitoring breast implants. In the U.S., the Federal Food and Drug Administration recommends people with silicone breast implants

  • Receive MRI screening for silent rupture (more about this below) three years after the initial implant surgery
  • Re-test every 2 years after that.

2 Types of Breast Implants

Both saline and silicone implants are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, with smooth and textured shells. Each is susceptible to failure, but for different reasons.

  • Saline-filled implants – Silicone shells filled with sterile saltwater. The implants may be inserted into the breast pre-filled, or they may be filled during the operation itself.
  • Silicone gel-filled implants – Silicone shells filled with a plastic gel.

What Happens When Saline Breast Implants Fail

Saline implants typically rupture due to

  • Ageing of the implant
  • Needle insertion during a biopsy
  • Trauma

When the valve of a saline implant fails, you’ll know it. The implant begins to deflate almost immediately, and the saltwater is absorbed by the body. An alarming study by implant manufacturers Mentor and Allergan found that “51 to 64% of silicone implant ruptures were caused by damage with surgical instruments during the initial implant surgery” reports BreastCancer.org.

What Happens When Silicone Breast Implants Fail

When a silicone implant fails, you may notice:

  • Changes in breast size
  • Changes in breast shape
  • Pain
  • Swelling

You may also notice nothing of all. When damaged, the gel oozes out of the implant more slowly than saline, and it takes longer for your breast to appear deflated. In some instances, a silicone implant may not cause any noticeable symptoms. Known as “silent rupture,” this is a key reason why regular follow-up imaging tests are important after breast implant surgery.

Corrective Surgery: What to Do When Implants Rupture or Leak

When a defect in an implant is detected, it needs to be removed surgically. In many cases, your surgeon may recommend that both implants be removed, even if only one has failed. If you wish to continue with breast augmentation, new implants may be inserted at the time the old implants are removed.

Another option is autologous reconstruction surgery which uses tissue from another place on your body for augmentation, rather than an implant. This surgery is complex and time-consuming, with a longer recovery time than implant surgery.

Planned Obsolescence: Implant Failure Is An Option

Breast implants were not intended to last a lifetime. However, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says patients can expect more from today’s implants, the products of decades of research into stronger shells and more stable fillers. According to the ASPS, there is a 90% chance that the implant will still be fully intact (after 10 years.)

In some instances, patients report their implants lasting for as long as 20 years. However, the chance of rupture increases about 1% each year after 10 years. To replace or not to replace, that is the question. When in doubt, consult with your surgeon, says Costhetics.

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