It was a story with a bit of irony, as well as ominous health warnings.
Crystal Hefner, the 30-year-old wife of Playboy magazine mogul Hugh Hefner, announced in a story in People magazine this month that she’d had her breast implants removed because they were making her sick.
Hefner posted a photo of her post-surgery self on Instagram with the caption, “Using 2016 to reclaim my health and embrace and love myself for the real me.”
The former model, now a DJ, was diagnosed a few months back with Lyme disease. Her symptoms included intolerance to foods and beverages as well as back, neck, and shoulder pain.
Hefner also suffered from cognitive dysfunction (brain fog, memory loss), stunted hair growth, fatigue, burning bladder pain, low immunity, and recurring infections and problems with her thyroid and adrenals.
People on social media pointed out that her symptoms matched those of something called breast implant illness.
Is the illness real?
Because of her celebrity, Hefner’s procedure was well-publicized.
There are also plenty of articles and blogs advising women to not get the implants or to have them removed.
However, doctors in the plastic surgery field suggest the connection between her symptoms and Hefner’s implants — almost 10 years old — may not be well-grounded.
“There are millions of women worldwide who have had breast implants for either reconstructive or cosmetic reasons, and the purported adverse health impacts are rarely reported,” Dr. David Song, told Healthline.
Song is the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and vice chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine.
“There is no scientific evidence that breast implants and leakage of silicone has been the cause of any type of autoimmune disease,” he added.
His words were echoed by Dr. Daniel Mills, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and in private practice in Southern California.
“The crux of the matter is that we had always done studies looking at breast cancer,” he told Healthline. “But the rate of women who got cancer didn’t change” if they had implants.
“The FDA [Food and Drug Administration] responded to claims from women who had scleroderma, lupus, fatigue, or other autoimmune diseases,” Mills said.
They looked for associations between the implants and the symptoms, and “they found no difference,” he said.
A short-term solution
The potential symptoms and reasons for surgery vary among women.
While many seek cosmetic changes, others have different needs.
“Breast implants are used for not only cosmetic reasons, but a significant number for reconstructive reasons after a woman has a mastectomy for cancer or a genetic mutation predisposing them to cancer,” Song said. “Rebuilding a woman’s breasts after cancer is also helping them to restore a sense of normalcy not just in appearance, but a sense of well-being. There are several studies that support the benefits of reconstructive breast surgery.”
Over time, surgical procedures have changed.
“The techniques have become more minimally invasive (shorter, smaller scars), and can often be done without general anesthesia,” Song said.
Women may choose between saline and silicone implants, depending on individual needs. From a safety perspective, in Mills’ opinion, “there’s not much difference between saline and silicone — until it breaks.”
That is one reason surgeons — and the government — remind patients that the same implants are not meant to stay implanted for a lifetime.
On its website, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stresses that point. “The longer you have breast implants, the more likely it is that complications will occur and you will need to have them removed,” it says.
Mills urges women who have implants, whether silicone or saline, to get them checked on a consistent basis. He recommends changing one’s implants about every 10 years.
On average, implants last 10 to 15 years before the risk of possible rupture heightens considerably.
Certain implant breakage or leakage, such as with silicone implants, can lead to a late capsular contracture, or a buildup of scar tissue, resulting in a more difficult implant exchange.
A personal choice
Both surgeons stressed that getting breast implants is a personal choice and that patients should do their homework before going ahead.
They should also consult a board-certified plastic surgeon to get the facts, and see if this is right for them.
There are women who are happy about their decision to get implants.
Sandy, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, got implants and a lift in 2005.
Describing herself as into health and fitness, she said she’d been unhappy about her post-pregnancy breasts. That led her to the surgeon’s office.
“I’m super happy, have no issues,” she told Healthline.
She did acknowledge that recovering from surgery was harder than she had anticipated.
“It’s like any surgery. You don’t pop right up,” she said.
And there are others who aren’t as gleeful.
Melissa Gilbert, the actress who gained fame on “Little House on the Prairie,” had her breast implants removed in January 2015.
In a detailed blog post before the surgery, Gilbert explained why.
“I am concerned for my health,” she wrote. “Frankly, I’d like to be able to take a Zumba class without the fear that I’ll end up with two black eyes.”