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Is It Time To Have Your Breast Implants Removed?

June 06, 2023

Starting on the day you have your breast augmentation surgery, a countdown clock starts ticking. Eventually, the implants will have to be removed.

Breast implants generally last 10 to 15 years. It is not unheard of for them to last longer, but the longer you have them, there is an increased risk of rupture and other complications. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t have them replaced again. Your plastic surgeon can help you decide the right time for removal.

Reasons for Removal

There are both personal and medical reasons that may prompt the decision. Complete removal is an easier pathway for women who sought breast augmentation for fun or for self-improvement. It’s a less attractive option if you had implants as part of breast reconstruction.

On the personal side, as you go through various stages of life, your view of implants may change. What you wanted during your 20s and 30s may not feel compatible with life in your 40s, 50s and beyond. Some women switch to smaller implants as they get older or decide they don’t want to do deal with the added weight and strain on their neck and shoulders.

There also are several potential medical complications that might lead to removal:

Capsular contracture: After your implant is put into place, your body forms a protective layer of fibrous scar tissue around it. This tissue, which helps keep the implant in place, is usually soft and unnoticeable. In some instances, however, that scar tissue becomes dense and hard. It can tighten and squeeze the implant, causing chronic pain and distorting the shape of the breast. In some cases, the remedy involves removing the implant and scar tissue, followed by new implants if desired. Symptoms, which can affect one of both breasts, include:

  • Breast feels or looks unnaturally tight after surgical swelling fades
  • Breast loses its natural profile and takes on a more spherical shape
  • Ripples form across the skin of the breast
  • Breasts are still too high on your chest several weeks after surgery

Implant rupture: Both silicone and saline implants carry the risk of rupture. While rare, ruptures can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging of the implant, trauma and surgical error. Saline ruptures are easier to detect, since the thin fluid is quickly absorbed into the body, leaving the breast noticeably smaller. With silicone ruptures, the thicker gel-like substance is slower to leak and is not absorbed by the body. With either type of rupture, you should have the implant quickly removed and replaced, if desired.

Breast implant illness: This one isn’t technically a medically recognized illness. But researchers have been studying this set of symptoms that are sometimes reported by implant recipients. When the implants are removed, symptoms go away very quickly. Symptoms include:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain
  • Memory loss
  • Skin rash

Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma:  This super rare cancer of the immune system is associated with breast implants, particularly textured implants (they have a rough surface that helps them adhere to surrounding tissue).

What To Expect

The surgery to remove implants is similar to the surgery that put them there. During the surgery, you will be under general anesthesia and intravenous (IV) sedation so that you are relaxed and feel no pain.

The surgeon will make an incision around the areola or under the breast, where it meets your chest. This inframammary fold is often the preferred option to help hide the scar. After the implant is removed, the surgeon can place a new implant.

If you choose not to replace the implants, there are things to consider. Your breast skin, for example, will have stretched to accommodate your larger breasts. When the implants are removed, your breast skin will be droopy or misshapen. This can be countered by a breast lift, where your surgeon removes excess skin and reshapes your breasts, leaving them firmer and more elevated. Fat grafting can also be used to fill in some areas.

Implant removal recovery is typically faster than with the original implant surgery. There’s usually a two-week timeline to give the incisions time to heal. It will take longer, though, if your surgery involved a rupture or scar tissue. In that case, drains are often needed for a week or longer to help your body get rid of excess fluids, followed by a few weeks of rest before returning to normal activities.

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