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I'm a mom, a wife, a best friend. Sick with CFIDS/ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia since 1975 as a result of a nasty flu while still in grad school, it wasn't until the late '80's that I received a diagnosis. Until that flu I'd never really been ill before. With each year I get progressively worse and add to the bucket load of symptoms I'm living with. I've been blessed with an incredible family and best friend who've stayed with me through my struggles as we continue to find a way out of this monstrous illness and its complications. We've tried seemingly every approach to find my way back to health. Often I think our best weapon in this undesirable and unasked-for adventure has been laughter.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How Safe Are Silicone Breast Implants?

It's been said by more than one wise man (and woman!) that if you don't know history, you're doomed to repeat it.  Sadly, one of the things which we are definitely doomed to repeat is the development of fibromyalgia and other painful complications as a consequence of silicone breast implants.  To say that I'm frustrated about this turn of events is putting it mildly.

About 30 years ago, a group of doctors observed that some women who had had silicone breast implants were experiencing muscle pain, joint pain, fatigue, and problems with memory and concentration.  We're not talking just a little bit.  These problems were so bad that there were women, for example, who had careers juggling millions of dollars for their companies who suddenly couldn't write out a check.  These were women, some of whom had had breasts which had become so grotesquely deformed as the implants started leaking, that their systems were being poisoned.  At the time when this became a rather huge problem, the vast majority of doctors did not link these problems to the implants. Not surrisingly, they attributed these symptoms to well-known, established inflammatory connective tissue diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.  That turned out NOT to be the case.  (Whoops!  Big Whoops!)

The medical establishment made the mistake of saying that silicone breast implants did not cause painful musculoskeletal  problems.  However, just because the silicone breast implant problems didn't cause lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma didn't necessarily mean that they did not cause other significant disorders in some patients.  

In the early 1990's, there were observations of a large number of implant recipients who developed either fibromyalgia, myofascial pain syndrome or both after implantation.  Not every woman developed these problems but enough did to get the attention of some fibro researchers.  In 1994 a silicone breast implant settlement agreement was made, the details of which are complicated.  However, the bottom line is that woman could apply for compensation if they developed musculoskeletal and/or neurological problems after implantation.  Very strict criteria were required by the courts in order for compensation to be made.  This was an effort to avoid patients suing Down Corning, the manufacturer of many of the implants.  (Down Corning applied to the courts and was granted the opportunity to avoid lawsuits in order to avoid bankruptcy. Monies were set aside to compensate women who met the strict criteria for the settlement litigation.)

Judge Pointer of Alabama required that patients be examined by a board-certified rheumatologist or neurologist and have the findings submitted to a review board which then determined if criteria were met and compensation would then be awarded.  Millions of dollars were paid out to thousands of women even though they did not have conventional rheumatologic diseases, although there was a section for patients who developed lupus after implant surgery.  

Clearly, these implants caused problems in many women, not just here in America.  To test the theory that the implants were indeed a legitimate health hazard, researchers chose to go to South Korea and obtain results with South Korean women who had had silicone implants -because there was no litigation to muddy the issues.  They found, much to their surprise, that the South Korean women developed the same problems as American women after implantation.  There was definitely something going on, and it wasn't good!   

So, why bring this up now?  To my horror, silicone breast implants are making a comeback.  No one should undergo this type of surgery without being informed as to the potential hazards even if the implants don't rupture, and the surgery doesn't go as planned.  True, the risk of getting lupus or other connective tissue diseases is low but the risk of getting a chronic, potentially debilitating condition is NOT low.  In fact, many women who develop fibro or myofascial pain syndrome after implantation may be extremely confused as to the cause since the FDA had given its approval again and these woman were probably told that the silicone is now safe.  

Today many women may opt for the saline-filled implants, but one must keep in mind that the saline is contained within an envelope made of silicone which could easily pose a threat to their health also.  

I find it disconcerting that now, in 2013, the medical community has not learned its lesson.  The Mayo Clinic, for example, has written the following on its website, with regards to a ruptured silicone implant:

"Ruptured silicone implant
If a silicone breast implant ruptures, you might not notice right away - or ever - because any free silicone tends to remain trapped in the fibrous tissue (capsule) that forms around the implant.  This is known as a silent rupture.  
Leaking silicone gel isn't thought to cause systemic or long-term health problems — such as breast cancer, reproductive problems or connective tissue disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Still, a ruptured silicone breast implant might eventually cause breast pain or changes in the contour or shape of the breast.  
If this happens, your doctor will likely recommend surgical removal. If you wish, a new implant can usually be inserted at the same time. 
If an MRI scan detects an implant rupture but you don't have any signs or symptoms, it might be up to you and your doctor to weigh the risks and benefits of keeping the implant in place or having it removed." ~Mayo Clinic

After reading this excerpt, a potential patient gets the impression that aside from local problems such as infection or leakage, there are no adverse health consequences from the implants.  And yet this is completely at odds with the medical literature and the experiences of many physicians and patients.  (I have my sources.)

I do not write this to bash the surgeons, the implant manufacturers, nor the FDA.  I just want women to be informed regarding the major risks and complications of this surgery.  If a woman decides to still go with the implants with informed knowledge, God speed.  However, every woman should know what the risks are, even though it's been 25 years since those days when everyone was talking, writing and suffering from this problem.  How easy to forget inconvenient findings and to forget what a generation of women have already gone through.

As always, hoping everyone is feeling their best, only better.  Ciao and paka!

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  1. A few months ago I read a book called The Naked Truth about breast implants (Amazon has it) by Susan Kolb. I have silicone breast implants that are now nearly 25 yrs. old and also have lupus and fibromyalgia. I became ill approximately 7 yrs. ago. I am now trying to find a reputable Dr. to have them removed as my rheumatologist thinks it's a good idea even though he says the research doesn't back it, but neither he nor I believe that. According to Dr. Kolb, the longer you've had implants the less of an improvement in your health. I should have done this long ago!!

    1. So sad to read this, Lupysue. I am so sorry for your ordeal and that this had to happen to you. I hope you find JUST the right surgeon to remove those "foreign objects." Positive thoughts being sent your way! Keep us posted! xx

  2. Call carolyn Salzmann 407.423.4560. She is a lawyer who wants to help women with the newer silicone implants. My wife has rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Hashimotos disease, and enlarged lymph nodes. She is getting her implants out soon along with her lymph nodes. My wife is in pain. And carolyn is one of the few lawyers who are interested in taking this on. Call her now she is reallyw nice and wants to help 407.423.4560

    1. This borders on advertising but I've let it go because I do hope that your wife gets the help she needs with those implants. Best of luck to her, truly. xx

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