Breast augmentation surgery is a very common plastic surgery procedure. Despite its popularity, there are situations when you may need or want your implants removed.

Breast implant removal surgery involves taking out or replacing the existing implants. As with any surgery, it’s important to understand what’s involved and any potential risks.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why breast implant removal surgery may be needed, and the risks, costs, and considerations of the procedure.

Although breast implants don’t expire, they have a limited life span. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons states implants should be removed or exchanged every 10 to 15 years.

One of the most common reasons that breast implants may need to be removed or replaced is because scar tissue can harden around the implants. It can cause pain and discomfort, and also change the implants’ appearance. This is known as capsular contracture.

Breast implant removal may also be needed due to:

  • leaking of the breast implant
  • buildup of calcium deposits around the implant
  • autoimmune response to the implant
  • necrosis or tissue death around the implant
  • pain related to the implants
  • shifting or movement of one or both implants

Some people also have their breast implants removed because their breasts have changed over time, affecting the look of the implants. Age, pregnancy, and breastfeeding can all change the shape, size, and weight of the breasts.

And sometimes people simply don’t want to have their implants anymore, or have different cosmetic goals and want to change their implant size.

A plastic surgeon typically performs breast implant removal surgery at a surgery center, hospital, or other operating room facility.

You’ll have a consultation with your plastic surgeon ahead of time to discuss the reason you want the implants replaced or removed, and the desired goals of the surgery.

Your surgeon will ask you about any medical conditions you may have, previous surgeries, and medications you’re taking.

During your consultation, your surgeon will also:

  • examine your breasts and take photographs
  • provide recommendations and options based on your goals
  • evaluate your health and discuss any possible risks or complications

Before your surgery, you’ll receive instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. This might include instructions regarding:

  • when to refrain from eating or drinking before your operation
  • how to bathe before surgery
  • what to avoid wearing when reporting to the preoperative area

The procedure itself will likely involve the following steps:

  1. Anesthesia. Most breast implant removal surgeries are performed under general anesthesia. This means you’ll be asleep and unaware that the procedure is taking place. You’ll receive medications for pain and nausea during and after the procedure.
  2. Skin preparation. A nurse or other assistant will apply antibacterial soap or cleansers over your breasts to prevent infection and prepare the surgical sites.
  3. Making an incision. Your plastic surgeon will make an incision that allows them to access the breast implant. Where this incision is made depends on where or how your implants were initially placed and considerations for scar tissue. The incisions are often made under the breast or around the areola of the nipple.
  4. Removal of the implant and tissue capsule. This part of the procedure depends on your implant issues or surgery goals. Over time, scar tissue naturally develops around an implant, creating a tissue capsule. Some surgeons will only remove the implant and leave the tissue capsule. Others will remove the capsule — a more time consuming procedure — or a portion of the capsule.
  5. Incision closure. Once your surgeon has removed or replaced the implants, they’ll close the incisions using sutures or special glue-like adhesives. They’ll place dressings or bandages around your chest to protect the incisions. Sometimes drains may be needed. They help reduce swelling by allowing blood or fluid to drain away from the breasts.
  6. Postoperative recovery. You’ll be woken up from general anesthesia and taken to a recovery room. There, a nurse will closely monitor your vital signs, pain levels, and dressing sites for any potential complications. Your surgeon will decide when you can leave their care. You’ll need to have someone drive you home after the surgery.

A nurse or other healthcare provider will provide you with discharge and self-care instructions before you go home. This will include information regarding:

  • what you can expect in terms of recovery
  • how to care for your incision sites (and drains, if you have them)
  • how to safely bathe
  • what you can do to help relieve any pain
  • when to call your doctor regarding potential complications
  • how long you should wait before resuming your daily activities

Although the healing process can vary, recovery from breast implant removal typically takes several weeks.

It’s normal to have some pain, discomfort, and swelling shortly after your surgery. It will also be hard to move your arms and upper body around as you normally do. You should have more mobility and less pain within a few weeks.

To minimize any complications, it’s important to rest and follow your surgeon’s instructions during the recovery period.

Follow up with your surgeon as soon as possible if:

  • pain or swelling doesn’t go away within several weeks
  • pain and swelling gets worse
  • you have any unusual symptoms

Breast implant removal surgery isn’t without potential risks, like any procedure. It’s important that your surgeon addresses the possible risks with you so you can decide whether surgery is the right option for you.

Potential complications of breast implant removal include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • ongoing pain
  • scarring
  • skin discoloration
  • accumulation of fluid
  • nerve damage, which could inhibit nipple sensation
  • complications from anesthesia, such as nausea or allergic reaction

If your surgeon removes the scar tissue around the implant, there’s a small possibility of a lung injury.

Over time, breast implants may thin the surrounding tissues and possibly even the ribs to the point that removing the scar tissue behind the implants leaves an opening to the lungs and the surrounding area. This is usually recognized in the operating room and promptly repaired. In rare cases, it can cause problems with breathing and circulation.

Another concern is that you may not like the cosmetic appearance of your breasts when the implants are removed.

If you’re not satisfied with the look of your breasts, your surgeon may recommend a nonimplant approach. Options that may improve the overall look of your breasts without implants include fat grafting or a breast lift.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates the average breast implant removal surgery costs $2,641.

This represents the cost of the surgery, including the surgeon’s fee. It doesn’t include additional costs, such as anesthesia and facility fees.

Keep in mind that you may also have additional postsurgery costs, such as medications for your recovery and postsurgery bras.

While medical insurance typically doesn’t cover the cost of breast augmentation surgery, there may be circumstances when your insurance will pay for implant removal.

This may be the case if your doctor determines that implant removal is medically necessary because keeping them poses a threat to your health.

Your insurance company may pay for all or a portion of breast implant removal surgery if you have:

  • breast cancer in the implanted breast
  • frequent infections related to the implant
  • severe scarring that interferes with your ability to get a mammogram
  • persistent pain, affected healing, or swelling postsurgery

Your insurance company likely has a policy regarding what it will reimburse for breast implant removal surgery.

However, if you wish to have the surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, insurance is unlikely to pay.

Breast implants aren’t meant to last a lifetime. It’s recommended they’re removed or replaced every 10 to 15 years or so.

One of the most common reasons that breast implants may need to be removed or replaced is due to scar tissue that can harden around the implants.

If you’re considering breast implant removal surgery, be sure to have a thorough discussion with your surgeon about expectations, recovery period, and any potential complications.