Breast augmentation remains the top cosmetic surgical procedure in the United States. But some women say bigger isn't always better.
A growing number of women are choosing to remove their breast implants because they claim they're making them sick.
Dr. David Rankin, of Jupiter, performs roughly 200 breast augmentations a year. He maintains breast implants are safe for the majority of women. "Five to six million women in the U.S. have breast implants and they do just fine and are happy with them."
Although he has seen an increase in the number of women coming to him for implant removal, he says he averages 3 explant surgeries a week. "I think there is a certain susceptibility to having a foreign body in your system and this is a rejection type issue."
He says his patients are coming to him, "when everything else is ruled out."
Dr. Rankin says these women are experiencing a variety of symptoms such as, "brain fog, joint pain, Lyme disease-type symptoms among others."
"Women's experiences are completely different," he said.
Karen Rapport is one of Dr. Rankin's patients. She first got her implants at the age of 50. She says one year later she started experiencing some problems. The problems got worse as the years went by.
"I gave up gluten. I was taking pain pills at night. I was doing everything possible. I was eating good and had a healthy life and was still getting sicker and sicker and sicker," Rapport says.
Karen told me, "This deep leg pain Kelley, so deep I explained to every doctor in South Florida that I felt like I had bone cancer but I didn't."
She remembers saying, "something is poisoning me from the inside out, that's how I felt."
Karen had her implants removed 10 months ago and says she is finally recovering.
Terri Diaz has a similar story. She had augmentation surgery in 2006 and says her health issues started 4 years later.
"I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and with many things. I listened to the diagnosis and followed the protocol but never got better. I couldn't walk up a flight of stairs. I had migraines, gut pain, colitis, food allergies, hormonal issues," she said.
Terri was so sick she could not work. Her small business was forced to close. A friend suggested that maybe her breast implants were causing her sickness.
She could not afford the surgery, which is generally not covered by insurance. A family member set up a GoFundMe account and Terri raised the money for surgery by Dr. Marguerite Barnett, in Sarasota, Florida.
Dr. Barnett specializes in explant surgery and says many times women are desperate by the time they get to her.
"People can have these symptoms who don't have implants so it's difficult to figure out what's going on. They see a multitude of doctor's who can't find anything. So frequently they're written off as being neurotic."
According to Dr. Barnett, many of her patients experience, "chronic fatigue, achiness, neurocognitive changes where their memory isn't functioning very well, irritable bladder, irritable bowel, weird rashes, hair thinning, dizziness and the list is long."
Once the implants are removed she says many people improve.
"I can't guarantee they will get better. For some it's almost immediately for others, it can take months to years before they see improvement," Dr. Barnett said,
Karen Rapport says she wants women to know, "there is a light after the tunnel."
"I would say to anyone who has many unexplained autoimmune diseases that have breast implants; consider that it could possibly be that," she said.
Both Dr.Barnett and Dr. Rankin feel more studies need to be done to help provide women with more answers about breast implants and the effect on their health.
"We need an emphasis on knowing there's a possibility they may reject this implant," said Dr. Rankin.
Dr. Barnett says, “If we had a registry and knew who was getting sick, the research could look at women with a fine-toothed comb."
We contacted the FDA to ask if there is a connection between breast implants and autoimmune diseases.
Here is what a spokesperson forwarded us:
"With the exception of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), we do not have evidence linking breast implants to a wider range of illnesses. In 2015, Tufts University published a systematic review of the published literature on breast implants and concluded that the body of evidence did not provide strong, conclusive evidence regarding the association between breast implants and a variety of cancers, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune diseases, or reproductive problems."
"The FDA will continue to require post-approval studies to characterize the long-term performance and safety of silicone gel-filled breast implants; and rare events will be monitored using postmarket surveillance tools and real-world data, including medical device reporting, analysis of incoming signals, postmarket studies and literature reviews."
Information on potential complications can be found in the patient labeling for approved breast implants, Labeling for Approved Breast Implants
For more information, click here.