There are symptoms and signs that may indicate problems associated with breast implants. However, one must always remember that majority of implant ruptures are picked up incidentally on ultrasounds and mammograms. On the other hand, some of the symptoms and signs mentioned below may not be due to the breast implant, but rather possible disease within the breast tissue itself.
Breast pain, breast discomfort, nipple sensitivity and soreness are not uncommon presenting complaints from patients with breast implants. Many attribute it directly to the implants but one must remember, idiopathic (unknown medical cause) breast and nipple pain is actually a very common phenomenon in women in general. If the discomfort is not associated with hardening, shifting or changes in the implant shape, a simple ultrasound or MRI can provide reassurance that the implant is intact, and may also allow detection of any abnormal breast tissue overlying the implant.
Breast lumps are often a concerning feature in patients with or without breast implants. In patients with old liquid silicone implants, pockets of silicones which has seeped into the breast tissue can form hard lumps. These can be detected and differentiated from breast cancer lumps via imaging techniques such as ultrasound, mammogram and MRI.
Change in breast shape or progressive asymmetry between the two breasts. Breast implants can move on the chest wall, or capsular contracture can push an implant upwards. This often occurs slowly overtime, thus can be difficult for some to notice. However, if you find that your bra sits crooked because your breasts are not at the same level, or if it doesn't fit because one is sitting a little further into the armpit, then it may be time to see your doctor or a plastic surgeon. Don't forget, sometimes pre-existing natural breast asymmetry can become more obvious after weight changes or even hormonal fluctuations such as pregnancies or menopause. This means, you may need a change in the size of your implants to correct the difference between the two sides.
Breast swelling is very rarely associated with breast implants. This can be associated with trauma to the chest wall (you may have bled around the implant), or it may be spontaneously with no precipitating event. The former requires urgent surgery, the latter requires further investigations into the cause of the swelling. Swelling can be due to fluid around the implant or infection. Swelling can sometimes be associated with abnormality in the breast tissue and need to be thoroughly assessed.
Breast skin or nipple discharge need to be taken seriously. If there are any discharge from an open sore on the breast or the nipple, please see your doctor. This could be implant-related or associated with diseases of the breast tissue or nipple, which may not necessarily be cancer.
Please contact your doctor or seek a referral to an accredited plastic surgeon if your breasts exhibit any of the abovementioned symptoms.
Our next blog will discuss the management of ruptured implants.
To read more about breast implant surgery, please click here.
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