“I prayed every night because I thought I was going to die.” It’s a strange account coming from a seemingly normal, healthy 45-year-old, but as the former Playboy model Karen McDougal told DailyMail, breast implants left her bedridden. McDougal opted for the procedure in 1996 after being assured it was safe, but as People magazine reports, the model developed thyroid and adrenal problems, severe allergies, and was constantly ill, just seven years after the surgery.

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“I would get sick every couple of months and be sick for six to eight weeks at a time,” she says in People. “It just never went away.”

However, the problems did get better after McDougal opted to have her implants removed. When she fell ill, the doctors she turned to for help were unable to find a reason for her problems, but a friend urged her to look into breast implant illness.

Breast augmentation safety has been an ongoing debate, and McDougal’s story is just one of the many causing the issue to resurface. Last month, a lawsuit was filed against Johnson & John’s Mentor Worldwide for selling leaky implants that caused health problems like muscle pain and nausea. In January, a French court ruled that a German certification company approved faulty implants and ordered the firm to compensate thousands of women in a class-action lawsuit.

A Google search on McDougal's self-diagnosed disease returns blogs, Facebook support groups and personal stories of women claiming to suffer from the disorder, but very little scientific support, which raises the question, “Can breast implants actually make you sick?”

According to one of the websites, breast implant illness is the catchall term for a variety of issues including brain fog, memory loss, hair loss, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, adrenal problems, insomnia, headaches and much, much more.

adult-1868574_1920 Breast Implant Illness is not a medically recognized condition. Pixabay

“The fact is, there is not a single good study that shows breast implants cause any systemic illness,” Dr. Jacob Frieman, M.D. and board-certified plastic surgeon, tells Medical Daily.

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Frieman doesn’t deny that augmentation can come with complications, saying the most common is capsular contracture, which occurs when a shell forms around the implant, causing hardness and pain. He says from photos it appears that McDougal experienced this and explains doctors aren’t sure why it happens. The incidence rate has decreased as doctors now typically place the implants under the muscle. Frieman claims the rate dropped from 2 to .01 percent in his practice after making the change. However, he believes this would not cause “brain fog” or any of the other symptoms associated with breast implant illness, which is not a medically recognized disorder.

“The second a study proves breast implants do cause systemic illness, the implants will be pulled from the shelves and no plastic surgeon in the U.S. will continue using them,” says the surgeon. 

However, Dr. Edward Melmed, a board-certified surgeon based in Texas, isn’t so sure. When he first began his career more than 45 years ago, Melmed regularly performed breast enhancement surgery. Now, he removes problematic implants.

“Virtually all implants will rupture with time,” Melmed states.

Studies from breast implant manufacturers reveal this happens in about 10 to 25 percent of implants in the first 10 years, reports Fox News. According to an FDA Summary Panel Memorandum, about one in four women have silicone leaking outside the scar tissue. Women who experience this leaking reported fatigue and autoimmune symptoms.

Melmed believes that it’s possible to get sick simply by having the foreign object in your body.

When asked about the lack of scientific support for breast implant illness, Melmed explains there’s only anecdotal evidence, which as he points out, reveals common problems among women with implants worldwide.

“All these women from all over the world didn’t say, ‘You know what? Let's tell the same story.’”

The surgeon says that doctors previously brushed off women who worried their mysterious ailments were tied to implants. Melmed believes the link is real because he’s dealt with many patients who complain of symptoms like fatigue and sore joints only to have them clear up after removing their implants.

“I see a very biased clientele,” Melmed admits. “I see the ones that have problems.”

However, he says problems with implants are now "beginning to be documented.” He referred to a small study by Dr. Arthur Brawer, M.D., a rheumatologist who looked at breast implant toxicity. Brawer studied six women who received the current silicone gel-filled breast implants used in the United States. None had ruptures, according to Brewer. After seven years, every participant experienced skin rashes, fatigue, headaches, hair loss and nausea, among other ailments. He also found that three of the four women who removed their implants noticed an improvement of at least 50 percent of their health problems. However, a study of six is not nearly large enough to make a case for breast implant illness.

Melmed believes further research will show the procedure isn't as safe as we think, pointing to scientists in New Zealand, Israel and Holland working on studies. Until a long-term, large-scale study indicates otherwise, breast implant illness won't be a diagnosed ailment, health professionals say.

Breast implants are the most common cosmetic procedure in the United States, with about 300,000 surgeries performed each year. Before electing for the enhancement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to be aware of the long-term risks, writing that some women have experienced connective tissue disease and reproductive problems, despite no evidence linking the disorders to implants. The agency does recognize a possible association between implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For women with implants, screenings are crucial, and the FDA recommends an MRI every two years after three years post-operation.

The FDA halted silicone-gel implants for a safety review in 1992, but they were put back on the market following approval in 2006. Saline implants have been FDA-approved since 2000.

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