Is My Breast Implant Ruptured?

Symptoms of Ruptured Breast Implants

Whether you’re considering breast implants or have had them for years, being aware of the signs of a potential rupture is important for maintaining both your health and peace of mind.

Consultant Plastic Surgeon Anthony MacQuillan guides you through the key symptoms to watch for, the steps to take if you suspect a breast implant rupture, and how to prevent implant complications.

What Are Breast Implant Ruptures?

Breast implants, whether for aesthetic enhancement or reconstructive purposes, are very popular in plastic surgery. However, like any medical device, they are not immune to complications, with implant rupture being a noteworthy concern. An implant rupture occurs when the outer shell of the implant breaks or tears, leading to the leakage of its contents. This can happen with both saline and silicone implants, though the implications and symptoms can vary between the two.

Saline implants are filled with sterile salt water. Should these implants rupture, the body will absorb the saline harmlessly, but the implant will deflate, causing a noticeable asymmetry in the breast size and shape. On the other hand, silicone implants are filled with a cohesive silicone gel that may not be absorbed by the body if leaked. Silicone ruptures are less obvious and are sometimes referred to as “silent ruptures,” as the gel may remain within the implant shell or the scar tissue capsule that forms around the implant.

Both types of implants have a silicone outer shell, which may degrade over time due to the natural ageing process, mechanical pressure, or external trauma. The integrity of an implant can also be compromised during the initial surgery or through subsequent surgical interventions, though this is less common due to advances in surgical techniques.

The detection of a rupture is important for prompt intervention. While saline ruptures are immediately noticeable, silicone ruptures might only be detected through imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. Anthony recommends periodic MRI screenings for those with silicone implants to detect silent ruptures.

2013 - Breast Augmentation by Anthony MacQuillan Side Left

Common Causes of Breast Implant Ruptures

Breast implant ruptures can be caused by various factors, ranging from accidental impacts to the gradual degradation of the implant material over time. It is important to understand these causes, as some may be preventable with careful measures:

  • Physical Trauma and Accidents: Significant impacts to the chest from car accidents, falls, or even aggressive physical activities can cause the implant to rupture. The force exerted can overwhelm the resilience of the implant shell, leading to a tear or break.
  • Surgical Errors: While rare due to the high standards of surgical practice, improper handling of the implant during surgery, or errors in placement can damage the implant. This includes using incorrect techniques, applying excessive force, or accidental punctures with surgical instruments.
  • Wear and Tear over Time: Breast implants are not lifetime devices and are subject to wear and tear. The constant movement of the chest with everyday activities can gradually wear down the integrity of the implant shell. Manufacturers typically suggest an effective life span for each type, beyond which the risk of rupture increases.
  • Capsular Contracture: This is a condition where the scar tissue that naturally forms around the implant tightens and squeezes the implant. Severe capsular contracture can put immense pressure on the implant, potentially leading to a rupture.
  • Biomechanical Changes: Weight fluctuations, pregnancy, and breastfeeding can also alter the biomechanics of the breast area, impacting the implants. These changes can exert additional pressure on the implants, potentially leading to rupture.

Prevention begins with knowing these risk factors and discussing them during consultations with Anthony. During these discussions, you can learn about the resilience of different implant types, the typical lifespan of implants, and the recommended follow-up care to monitor implant integrity.

Regular check-ups are essential, as they allow for early detection and management of potential issues before they become serious. For silicone implants, adhering to the recommended schedule for MRI scans is essential to detect any silent ruptures. For all types of implants, being mindful of physical activities and protecting the chest area from high-impact forces can help with maintaining the longevity of the implants.

Early Signs and Symptoms of a Rupture

Identifying the early signs of a breast implant rupture is important for timely intervention and to prevent further complications. While the symptoms can vary depending on the type of implant, some common indicators should prompt immediate consultation with Anthony:

For Saline Implants:

  • Rapid Changes in Breast Size and Shape: The most obvious symptom of a saline implant rupture is a noticeable decrease in the size of the affected breast. This occurs because the saline solution, which is biocompatible and harmless, is absorbed by the body, causing the implant to deflate.
  • Asymmetry between the Breasts: As one implant deflates, the asymmetry between the breasts becomes apparent, which is often the first visual cue that prompts women to seek medical advice.

For Silicone Implants:

  • Gradual Changes in Breast Shape and Size: Unlike saline, silicone gel might not cause immediate changes because it tends to remain within the implant shell or in the surrounding tissue. Over time, however, subtle changes and distortion in the shape of the breast can occur.
  • Firmness or Hardening: As the body reacts to the free silicone, the area around the implant may harden, a condition known as silicone granuloma formation, leading to a noticeable firmness in the breast.

Common Symptoms for Both Types:

  • Pain and Discomfort: Any sudden pain or discomfort around the implant area should be a concern, especially if it appears without any obvious injury.
  • Swelling: Swelling can occur as the body reacts to the rupture, whether it’s from an inflammatory response in the case of silicone or from fluid shifts with saline.
  • Lumps or Irregularities in Contour: Feeling lumps or noticing contour irregularities on the surface of the breast can indicate that silicone has leaked and formed granulomas, or it might be related to the folding of the deflated implant shell.
  • Changes in Sensation: Any changes in sensation, such as numbness or tingling, should be noted as they can be indicative of nerve compression or irritation from the ruptured implant.

It’s essential to perform regular self-examinations and stay alert to these signs. Early detection and treatment can prevent further complications and lead to better outcomes.

Diagnosing a Ruptured Breast Implant

Once a patient presents with symptoms of a possible breast implant rupture, a series of diagnostic steps are followed to confirm the diagnosis and plan the appropriate treatment. Anthony emphasises the importance of a thorough diagnostic process to ensure that any intervention is precisely targeted and effective:

Clinical Examination:

  • The first step involves a detailed clinical examination where Anthony assesses the physical symptoms, reviews your medical history, and performs a manual examination to detect any irregularities or changes in the breast tissue and implants.

Imaging Tests:

  • Ultrasound: This is often the first imaging test used as it is readily available and can effectively detect irregularities in the implant and surrounding tissues. Ultrasound can help determine the presence of free silicone or a collapsed saline implant shell.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): For a more detailed evaluation, an MRI is recommended, especially for silicone implants. MRI is highly sensitive and can detect both intracapsular and extracapsular silicone leakage.
  • Mammography: While not primarily used for diagnosing implant ruptures, mammography can sometimes provide additional information, especially in detecting calcium deposits that might form around a silicone leak.

Biopsy:

  • In cases where there is an uncertain diagnosis after imaging, or if there is a concern about the nature of any detected mass, a biopsy may be performed to rule out other conditions.

Once a rupture is confirmed, Anthony discusses the findings with you, providing detailed information about the nature of the rupture, the recommended surgical options, and what to expect during the recovery period. The decision to remove or replace a ruptured implant is made in consultation with you, considering your health, lifestyle, and aesthetic goals.

Treatment Options for a Ruptured Implant

As mentioned before, Anthony discusses the various treatment options available. The chosen method depends largely on the type of implant, the nature of the rupture, and your personal preferences and health status. Here are the most common approaches:

Removal of the Implant:

  • Implant Removal Without Replacement: In some cases, patients may opt to have the ruptured implant removed without replacing it. This decision might be due to lifestyle changes, health considerations, or a preference to revert to their natural breast contour. Anthony ensures that patients are fully informed about the potential aesthetic outcomes of this choice, which can include breast sagging or deformity, depending on the original breast tissue volume and the duration the implants were in place.
  • Implant Removal with Replacement: Often, patients choose to replace the ruptured implant with a new one. This can be done in the same procedure as the removal. Patients might opt for the same type of implant or use this opportunity to choose a different type or size, based on their current aesthetic goals or advancements in implant technology.

Revision Surgery:

  • Revision surgery not only addresses the removal and replacement of the ruptured implant but also any cosmetic concerns the patient may have. It can involve adjustments to the breast capsule (scar tissue around the implant), reshaping of the breast tissue, and correction of any asymmetry or deformities caused by the ruptured implant. Anthony’s expertise in cosmetic breast surgery ensures high-quality results tailored to each patient’s needs.

Recovery and Aftercare:

  • Recovery from surgery to treat a ruptured implant varies depending on the extent of the procedure. You can expect some swelling and discomfort for a few weeks, which can be managed with prescribed pain medications. Anthony provides detailed post-operative care instructions and schedules follow-up visits to monitor the healing process. You are advised to avoid strenuous activities for a period to ensure optimal healing.

Prevention and Monitoring

Preventing complications from breast implants, including ruptures, starts with choosing a qualified and experienced surgeon for the initial placement and following all post-operative care instructions closely. However, even with the best initial outcomes, ongoing monitoring is crucial to maintaining breast health and the integrity of the implants.

Regular Self-Examinations:

  • Anthony teaches his patients how to perform self-examinations to check for changes in breast contour, feel, or any new discomforts. Regular self-checks help in early detection of potential issues, which, when addressed promptly, can prevent more serious complications.

Routine Medical Check-Ups:

  • Scheduled follow-ups with Anthony allow for professional examinations and discussions on any concerns the patient might have. During these visits, the condition of the implants can be assessed, and any early signs of problems, like capsular contracture, can be detected.

Imaging Surveillance:

  • For patients with silicone gel-filled implants, MRI screenings are recommended every 2-3 years to check for silent ruptures. Anthony helps coordinate these tests and reviews the results with the patients to ensure they understand their significance and the next steps, if any issues are detected.

Lifestyle Considerations:

  • Patients are advised on how to protect their breast implants. This includes wearing appropriate support during physical activities, maintaining a stable weight, and avoiding unnecessary chest trauma.

Awareness and Education:

  • Anthony believes in empowering his patients with knowledge about their implants. This includes understanding the expected lifespan of the implants, recognising signs of complications, and knowing when to seek medical advice.

By maintaining a proactive approach to monitoring and care, you can significantly extend the life and aesthetic appearance of your breast implants, enjoying satisfaction and confidence in their results for many years.

FAQs about Breast Implants

How long do breast implants typically last before they might rupture?

  • Breast implants are not considered lifetime devices. The average lifespan of breast implants is usually between 10 to 20 years, but this can vary widely depending on the type of implant, the manufacturer, and individual factors such as lifestyle and changes in your body. Regular check-ups are essential to monitor their condition over time.

Can I travel by air with breast implants? Is there a risk of rupture due to changes in cabin pressure?

  • You can safely travel by air with breast implants. Changes in cabin pressure in modern aircrafts are well regulated and do not affect the integrity of breast implants. There is no increased risk of rupture from flying.

If my breast implant has ruptured but I’m not experiencing any symptoms, do I still need to have it removed or replaced?

  • Yes, it is generally recommended to remove or replace a ruptured implant even if you’re not currently experiencing symptoms. Silent ruptures, especially with silicone implants, can lead to complications over time. An assessment with Anthony can help determine the best course of action.

Are there any activities I should avoid to prevent breast implant rupture?

  • To minimise the risk of rupture, it’s advisable to avoid activities that could result in a severe impact on your chest, such as certain contact sports. Additionally, while regular exercise is important, it’s wise to consult with Anthony about which exercises are safe and which might need to be modified or avoided.

Does health insurance cover the cost of fixing a ruptured implant?

  • Coverage for breast implant surgery, including the repair or replacement of a ruptured implant, varies widely by insurance provider and policy. Typically, insurance may cover these procedures if they are deemed medically necessary, such as after a mastectomy. However, if the initial implantation was for cosmetic reasons, the subsequent repair or replacement might not be covered. It’s important to check with your insurance provider to understand your specific coverage.

Further Reading about Breast Surgery with Consultant Plastic Surgeon Anthony MacQuillan

Medical References about Breast Implant Rupture