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Danica Patrick is the latest celebrity to share her story about getting her breast implants removed after suffering from medical issues.
In a recent post to her Instagram account, the former NASCAR driver describes her history with breast implants, which she originally had done November 2014.
“I got them because I wanted to have it all. I was really fit, but I didn’t have any boobs,” she writes. "So I got them. Everything went well, and I was happy with them.”
In the same post, Patrick details the physical symptoms she experienced, which she says began in 2018 and intensified in 2020 when the "wheels came off."
“I had cycle irregularity, gained more weight, my hair wasn’t looking healthy at all and my face was a different shape (weird I know),” she says, adding that she went down a “rabbit hole” to try to figure out what the issue was. “I did every test that could be done.”
Patrick isn’t the only celebrity to open up about breast implant removal. In August 2021, former "Bachelorette" Clare Crawley revealed she was also going through with the explant procedure after suffering autoimmune issues, swollen lymph nodes and strange rashes on her body.
In her message, Patrick says her health symptoms were related to a condition called breast implant illness, adding “the common denominator” is having issues you “can’t resolve.”
Dr. Stephen Nicolaidis, a plastic surgeon at Contour Clinic in Montreal, was not involved in Patrick’s case, but says he has people from all over Canada, even as far away as Brazil, travel to see him to remove their breast implants due to breast implant illness.
What is breast implant illness?
Breast implant illness is a term used by doctors and women to “refer to a wide range of symptoms that can develop after undergoing reconstruction or cosmetic augmentation with breast implants.” Symptoms can occur with various types of implants, including silicone filled and saline filled.
Breast implant illness is not currently an official medical diagnosis, and some experts describe it as a “diagnosis by exclusion.”
“Diagnosis by exclusion means that there is no test for it, but there are tests for other things that have the same symptoms or similar symptoms,” Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research tells ABC News. “If there is no other reason for this array symptoms, then there are doctors who will call it breast implant illness.”
Breast implant illness is much more recognized than it used to be, but there are still stories online of women with medical issues going to see their doctors and having their symptoms dismissed.
Nicolaidis tells Yahoo Canada that he has colleagues who are surprised that he believes in breast implant illness. However, in his experience, patients who have their implants removed "come back saying they feel better."
Doctors agree that social media is a huge part of the awareness and also offers support to women who are experiencing similar health problems.
One of the largest Facebook groups, Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole, was created several years ago by a woman who says she also suffered from breast implant illness. It now has more than 160,000 members.
Patrick herself turned to the internet throughout her medical ordeal, saying she watched over 100 stories on YouTube.
All of this attention has led to more discussions in the medical community.
“It’s recognized enough that the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] now talks about it,” Nicolaidis says.
In October 2021, the FDA updated its safety requirements regarding breast implants, including new label warnings added on implant packaging and making a patient decision checklist for patients so they can understand the risks before the surgery.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast implant illness?
Symptoms may vary for each person. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons lists the more common ones as the following:
Muscle and joint pain
Memory and concentration problems
As for when someone will experience these symptoms, that also depends on the person.
“I’ve had patients come and ask me, it breaks my heart because it’s literally two months after their augmentation, and they’re feeling so sick they want them out,” Nicolaidis says. “That’s the quickest within a month or two.”
However, Nicolaidis adds that majority of patients won’t experience symptoms for at least a couple of years, if not longer.
Who is at risk of breast implant illness?
Nicolaidis estimates that one to 10 per cent of breast implant patients will suffer from breast implant illness.
When asked who exactly is at risk of getting sick, the Canadian specialist says that is “not 100 per cent clear.”
Generally, doctors say women have a greater risk of developing breast implant illness if they have a personal or family history of autoimmune disease, suffer from a chronic condition like fibromyalgia, have multiple allergies, or have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.
Nicolaidis was performing breast augmentation surgeries up until a year ago because he says he wanted to learn more about risk factors that cause the illness.
“Then I started seeing patients who had no risk factors and still developed breast implant illness,” he explains. “That’s when I decided OK forget it, I’m not implanting anymore.”
What does treatment look like?
A common treatment option for people suffering from breast implant illness is having both implants and the surrounding scar tissue removed.
Patrick says she felt better almost immediately after surgery, noting her face “had more colour and less dark circles,” her face started producing oil again, she could take deeper breaths and she had more energy.
While some effects are felt much quicker, other issues may take longer to resolve.
“[Patients] who have developed full blown autoimmune illnesses from their implants, those ones are slower to get better,” Nicolaidis explains. “They often require not just removal of the implants and the capsule, but they also require medical care in order to improve.”
When it comes to advice he offers his patients, Nicolaidis believes the risks of breast implant surgery should not be downplayed and says the decision should not be made “light-heartedly.”
“There are many complications that can arise,” he advises. “For patients who have enough breast tissue you’re better off probably having a lift than an augmentation cause then you have your own tissue, you’re not going to have to have other surgeries.”
As for Patrick, she says she will continue to share her progress as she goes along.
“If this post helps just one get to the root of their issues, it did its job,” she says.