Every now and then, a new celebrity is in the news after announcing her decision to remove her breast implants. They speak out about the importance of loving yourself the way you are, they post some Instagram pictures of “the new me,” and the public eagerly reads the related articles in tabloid magazines.
But most of these women aren’t just talking about body image; they are getting their implants removed because of their health. Breast implants can make some women so sick that removal is their best hope for feeling like themselves again. Several celebrities are trying to spread this information to the general public.
Crystal Hefner, Hugh Hefner’s wife, opened up about her breast implant horror story on Facebook. She announced her implants had been slowly poisoning her and causing unexplained back pain, cognitive problems, constant neck and shoulder pain, recurring infections, and many other symptoms. Once she removed her breast implants, she instantly felt an improvement and continues to feel better. [Read more about her story in this Forbes article]
Yolanda Foster, of Real Housewives fame, removed her breast implants when she found out her silicone implants had ruptured and were leaking into her body. The silicone was making the symptoms of her Lyme disease even worse. She felt much better once she removed her implants.
Linda Blair, actress in the horror movie The Exorcist, described her experience with breast implants as a nightmare. After removing her implants, she advocated for the FDA to make sure breast implants are actually studied to be safe.
Mary McDonough, a child star in The Waltons who appeared as an adult in shows such as ER and Will and Grace, attributes her autoimmune disease (lupus) to her breast implants. She was healthy before getting implants, and it was only after her implants were removed that she immediately started to feel better. She has been one of the most outspoken celebrities on the risks of breast implants.
Karen McDougal is a former Playboy Playmate and current model who made the decision to have her implants removed after months of feeling sick. She has spoken out about the risks of breast implants in USA Today and People Magazine.
Mariel Hemingway, Sharon Osbourne, and Stevie Nicks are just a few of the other celebrities who chose to remove their breast implants because of serious health problems.
Celebrities are bringing attention to the health problems that thousands of women with implants have suffered from for decades.
First, a little history:
Women have been getting breast implants since the 1960’s, and although silicone gel implants were drastically restricted for many years during the mid-1990’s through 2005 because of safety concerns, the FDA approved them again in 2006 based on short-term studies done by breast implant manufacturers. FDA also required the manufacturers to do larger, longer-term studies after that, in order to make sure they were safe (these are called post-market studies).
These longer-term studies had a lot of problems, and most women did not stay in the studies long enough to provide useful scientific information. However, studies have shown that the longer women have silicone breast implants, the more likely they are to experience problems with them. FDA reported that the studies found that as many as 1 out of every 5 women who get silicone breast implants for cosmetic reasons need to remove their implants within 10 years. This number rises to 1 out of every 2 women if they got reconstruction after a mastectomy. Were the women who dropped out of the studies the ones that were more likely to have health problems, or less likely? You can read more about the unanswered questions from these studies here.
Breast implants were approved by the FDA even though research showed that between 15% and 20% of first-time augmentation patients will need additional surgery to fix implant problems within 3 years, whether the implants are filled with silicone gel or saline.  The chances of needing additional surgery increases as time goes on — 28% of women are on the second set of implants after 3 years, and this number doubles when the women have their implants for 6 years. The percentage is even higher than that for mastectomy patients whose implants were for reconstruction.
What usually goes wrong?
- Rupture: All breast implants will eventually break, sometimes within a few months or years, and usually within 10 years.
- Capsular Contracture: This is when the breasts get firm, then hard, and they can be very painful. Breast implants are a “foreign body” and the natural response for most women is that their body forms scar tissue around the implant, inside their body, to protect their body from this “foreign invader.” This is a natural process. However, it’s called capsular contracture when the scar tissue tightens or hardens around the implants and causes abnormal firmness, hardness, or pain.
- Pain: Besides pain caused from capsular contracture (see above), breast implants can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain because of their weight. Leaking silicone gel can also cause a painful burning sensation.
- Autoimmune issues: Experts disagree on whether breast implants cause specific autoimmune diseases. However, the fact that implants can cause cancer of the immune system (ALCL) certainly makes it more likely that implants can cause other autoimmune problems. FDA scientists found that women with ruptured and leaking silicone gel breast implants were more likely to have fibromyalgia, a painful autoimmune disease. Many women have reported suffering from autoimmune symptoms such as joint pain, hair loss, dry eyes, or mental confusion after getting breast implants, and have also reported that these symptoms often improve or disappear after removing the implants. One study even showed the autoimmune symptoms got better for 3 out of 4 women after they removed their implants.
- Constant flu-like symptoms: Many women report feeling constantly tired or like they’re trying to get over the flu.
- Learn more about complications from breast implants in FDA’s consumer handbook.
Besides health problems, some celebrities decide to remove their implants simply because they were annoying or embarrassing. Just to name a few, Heather Morris, Heidi Montag, Pamela Anderson, Victoria Beckham, and Jane Fonda all removed their implants for this reason.
Plastic surgeons refer to breast augmentation as a very simple surgical procedure, and as a result many people think of breast implants as an insignificant surgery with few health risks. Hearing about celebrities who removed their breast implants sometimes makes women think twice about getting them in the first place. It helps remind all of us to do careful research before making any decision about putting something inside your body.
ALCL Update: In March 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FA) updated its website to report that breast implants could cause a type of cancer of the immune system called Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL).  No celebrities have reported ALCL from their breast implants.
Are you considering breast implants? Find out more information here.
Are you thinking about removing your breast implants? Find out more information here.
All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.