Breast Implant-Related Illness (BII)


Dr. Robert Whitfield is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Austin, TX, treating patients from around the country suffering from BII-related illnesses, including brain fog, chronic fatigue, poor memory or concentration, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Start with a virtual or in-office consultation or a 60-second assessment.
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What is Breast Implant Illness?

Breast Implant Illness (BII), according to Dr. Whitfield, is driven by an inflammatory response to the breast implant itself, or to bacteria (biofilms) that may grow on the breast implant surface or within the scar capsule. This inflammation can create a wide range of symptoms that patients experience after getting breast implants.
Although Breast Implant Illness (BII) is not recognized as an official medical diagnosis, Dr. Whitfield recognizes that it does exist. Other terms used to describe Breast Implant Illness (BII) are: breast implant disease, autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA), silicone implant illness.
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Who Can Have Breast Implant Illness(BII)?

Anyone who has had breast augmentation using breast implants whether for purely cosmetic reasons, for cancer reconstruction or as a tissue expander can have Breast Implant Illness. In Dr. Whitfield’s experience with performing over 1,100 explants, he has seen the symptoms of BII often. Dr. Whitfield has cared for BII, cancer and cosmetic patients for over 20 years. In fact his own sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and had reconstruction using breast implants after mastectomy while he was still in medical school.

How Common Is Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

While the actual statistics are not yet known, Dr. Whitfield currently receives thousands of inquiries from women around the United States who are suffering from symptoms they suspect are caused by their breast implants. It is estimated that more than 400,000 women per year undergo breast augmentation with breast implants. After a virtual consultation with the doctor these women often travel to Austin, Texas for Dr. Whitfield’s specialized treatment options for BII and his highly skilled explant surgery techniques. Dr. Whitfield has even developed a proprietary program for women with BII who cannot travel in for surgery but still wish to benefit from his Holistic Accelerated Recovery Program (HARP). Dr. Whitfield performs discovery sessions for women all over the United States and Europe.

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What Are the Symptoms of Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

Breast Implant Illness may vary per individual as everyone responds to inflammation differently. Common symptoms that may appear in women following breast augmentation using breast implants are:

  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Headaches
  • Sound Sensitivity
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Bloating
  • SIBO Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
  • Food sensitivities
  • Food allergies
  • Acid reflux or GERD
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS
  • Gut Microbiome dysbiosis
  • Constipation
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Weight Gain
  • Fluid retention
  • Swelling
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Decreased libido
  • Infertility
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nerve pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest soreness
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Hair loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry eyes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes (often near breast implant or armpit)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory Issues (difficult to take deep breaths)
  • Frequent & Unexplained Skin Rashes
  • Recurring Infections
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Persistent joint and muscle pain

Doctors often attribute these symptoms to other medical conditions including age, chronic fatigue syndrome, hormonal imbalances, dehydration, fibromyalgia, and Lyme which is why, in part, conclusions around BII have been so elusive. However, many women have reported that these symptoms have been successfully reduced or eliminated after the removal of their breast implants.
While there are some women who report they did not have immediate improvement following breast implant removal, it still continues to be the treatment method with the highest rate of success for Breast Implant Illness.

How Do You Test for Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

While the symptoms of BII can be relatively nonspecific, the diagnoses may be complicated and delayed. Scientific knowledge about BII has grown in recent years, and experts have begun to establish diagnosis standards. Dr. Whitfield has quickly become a leader in BII and has conducted thousands of consultations and discovery sessions for women struggling with Breast Implant Illness. 

When Dr. Whitfield suspects BII he runs a variety of specified tests for Breast Implant Illness patients to rule out any other root cause issues. These tests evaluate food sensitivities, DNA testing for genetic predisposition, gut and microbiome health, hormonal imbalance, heavy metals, environmental toxins, mold and mycotoxins, inflammatory biomarkers and autoimmune markers. Dr. Whitfield has patients referred to him who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Sjögren’s syndrome, Lyme disease, toxic mold exposure and fibromyalgia to name a few.

How is Breast Implant Illness Treated?

The most successful therapy, currently, is breast implant removal (explant surgery).  Recently, there was a small published series that is highly controversial in nature, regarding the scar capsule that forms around the breast implant. Given the increasing number of cases and recent FDA announcements regarding breast implant-related cancers such as lymphomas (ALCL) and a new squamous cell carcinoma (SCC),  Dr. Whitfield approaches each breast implant removal case very carefully. During explant surgery, Dr. Whitfield removes the entire capsule (Total Capsulectomy) in one piece without rips or tears (En Bloc). In his first 1000 explants, he has already seen two cases of breast cancer, one of which was a B cell lymphoma, which is why he approaches every explant case with the same level of caution. Depending on the initial incision and breast implant size implants can be removed through a previous areola incision (as with Danica Patrick), under the fold, or through a breast lift incision. Dr. Whitfield is one of the few explant surgeons who specialize in breast implant removal without the use of drains, especially when a fat transfer is being performed at the time of explant. Dr. Whitfield explains that in most all explant cases drains are not necessary just as they are no longer used in tummy tucks and Brazilian butt lifts.

How soon after Breast Implant Removal will I see results?

Some of Dr. Whitfield's patients have noticed improvements as soon as they wake up in the recovery room after surgery. These patients, typically, are suffering from a severe allergic-type reaction to their implants. Many of these women have struggled with significant skin rashes, dermatitis, eczema, and/or other complex breakouts of the whole body. If the patient had a breast implant infection then their recovery can vary depending on the level of continuation in their breast or systemic symptoms of infection. Depending on the patient’s own personal genetics, immune pathway function, diet, and gut health their recovery may take weeks to months. Root cause analysis is paramount to recovery in Dr. Whitfield’s experience. This is why he heavily emphasizes the importance of genetic predisposition testing coupled with immune pathway dysfunction treatment in his specialized protocols.

How can I reduce my risk of Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

The best way to reduce risk of BII is to remove breast implants and the capsule that has formed around them. Dr. Whitfield also approaches BII by targeting other sources of inflammation utilizing his recommended protocols, testing and specific supplements. His Holistic Accelerated Recovery Program (HARP) can be used at any time prior to or after explant surgery to address other potential root cause sources of inflammation. For clients local to Dr. Whifield’s practice in Austin, Texas all testing is completed prior to surgery in most cases.

What studies have been done on Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

Currently, Dr. Whitfield has an IRB-approved study evaluating biofilms found on explant specimens of women with Breast Implant Illness. He has found compelling evidence that biofilms are a contributing factor of Breast Implant Illness in a large number of cases. Other future studies will be focused on functional genomics, new inflammatory biomarkers, and the utility of drain-free explants.

How do I care for myself or a loved one with Breast Implant Illness?

Breast Implant Illness can be difficult to manage for many women and their families as they struggle with extreme fatigue and other symptoms, some of which may even be debilitating. Many women have visited countless doctors and specialists and still do not have definite answers or an improvement of symptoms. Following a low-inflammatory diet and reducing other environmental toxins is a great place to start in reducing other sources of inflammation within your body. 

When should I see my doctor about Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

If you have breast implants and have noticed an increase in unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, breast pain or burning, enlarged axillary lymph nodes, brain fog or other symptoms that doctors have not been able to get to the root cause of; it may be time to schedule a visit with an explant surgeon.

What types of implants cause Breast Implant Illness (BII)?

BII can occur with any type of breast implant, including silicone gel-filled, saline-filled, smooth, textured, round or teardrop-shaped implants. Symptoms may appear at any time after surgery. Some women notice symptoms almost immediately, while others may not have significant symptoms until years later. Older breast implants (8+ years) tend to have an increase in symptoms each year.

What if I had explant surgery but my surgeon did not remove my capsules?

Many women come to Dr. Whitfield after having had explant surgery elsewhere. If they find out their capsules were not completely removed and their BII symptoms have not improved and in some cases have become worse. Dr. Whitfield specializes in exploratory capsule removal and is able to help these patients by removing the remaining capsules and thoroughly cleaning out the breast pocket to address any remaining biofilms or debris. 

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