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How to Identify a Ruptured Implant?

Breast Implants, Breast Revision surgery

November 08, 2022 | 7 minute read

6 Minute Read: 

While breast implants are reliable and long lasting (potentially lasting a lifetime), it’s not uncommon for the implants to weaken and develop tears, causing the filling material to leak. This is known as a rupture. 

Woman covering her bare breasts with her arms.

An implant rupture can occur with saline or silicone implants and requires breast implant removal and replacement (if a new implant is desired). While additional surgery may seem daunting, secondary breast surgery, or breast revision, is a simple and safe procedure that will help ensure that your body and breasts continue to look their best. 

If you have or are planning on receiving breast augmentation in the San Francisco area, we want to help you take the right precautions to achieve long-term, successful results. For starters, this means knowing what a rupture looks like.

What Is Implant Rupture?

An implant “ruptures” when its outer shell tears, resulting in the contents of the implant leaking out. 

With saline implants, this leak will be easily identifiable, as the sterile saline solution will be absorbed by the body and naturally processed out. Most saline implants deflate in a number of hours or days. 

With silicone implants, the leak is typically very gradual, often going unnoticed at first. 

What Causes Implant Rupture?

An implant can rupture for a number of reasons. 

One of the most common causes is capsular contracture, where collagen fibers (scar tissue) constrict around the implant. Capsule formation around the implant is a natural response after augmentation, and these fibers often grow without a problem. However, over time, hardening tissues may result in rupture.

Implants can also become weakened or worn from stress. A woman’s daily and repeated movements can weaken the integrity of an implant’s shell, especially in areas that may fold, such as the outer sides. Textured implants are also more likely to rupture due to having more friction against the breast.

Injury is another possible reason for rupture, as direct force to the implant can cause it to break. Even in these circumstances, a ruptured silicone implant may not be immediately detectable if the patient is not looking for it.

Is Implant Rupture Dangerous?

There is little risk involved with saline implant rupture. Since saline is essentially sterile saltwater, it is quickly absorbed by the body, presenting no danger to one’s health. 

However, once an implant ruptures, collagen fibers will begin to grow in the empty space. The longer this tissue is allowed to fill the breast, the more will have to be removed when replacing the implant. It is therefore a good idea to replace ruptured implants as soon as possible, for an easier surgery and recovery. Of course, most women want to replace the implant for cosmetic reasons, as a ruptured saline implant will have visible aesthetic effects.

Older silicone implants were made of a less cohesive gel that could escape the breast pocket in cases of rupture. This is not as likely with modern silicone implants or gummy bear implants that consist of a thicker, more cohesive gel.

While ruptured silicone implants should be replaced as soon as possible, there is little evidence that suggests any serious health risks from them.

Signs of a Ruptured Saline Implant

Fortunately, most saline implant ruptures are immediately obvious. Even if patients are unfamiliar with ruptures, they will likely recognize that a breast has suddenly changed in appearance. 

Use the following warning signs to identify a rupture and subsequently seek treatment:

  • Deflation: As the saline solution exits a ruptured implant, it will cause the implant to lose its volume, leading to a deflated appearance. This is the most common and recognizable effect, and occurs soon after the rupture forms.
  • Change in shape: Even if a breast does not appear deflated, ruptured implants most often lead to a change in breast shape. The breast may appear smaller, lopsided, or similarly asymmetrical in relation to the other. Although this change is normally quick, it’s possible to occur more gradually from very small leaks in the implant.
  • Tenderness: After an implant has ruptured, its shell may rub against the breast’s interior, creating irritation or tenderness.

If you believe an implant has ruptured and you feel feverish and sick, this may be an indication of infection. In the event you believe you may have an infection, call your doctor immediately for appropriate treatment.

Woman with asymmetrical breasts.

Signs of a Ruptured Silicone Implant

Whereas saline ruptures are often immediately detectable, silicone implants tend to result in “silent” ruptures. That is, they may not look or feel any different than normal. 

This is because silicone gel is more viscous, retaining its general shape. Leaks tend to be slow and relatively unnoticeable at first. Nevertheless, here are some warning signs to suggest a ruptured silicone implant:

  • Pain or tenderness: If silicone has leaked into the breast, the nearby tissue may become inflamed. This may result in soreness or tenderness of the area.
  • Change in shape: Ruptured silicone implants can affect breast size or shape, but the change will be subtle and gradual. If an implant appears to have decreased in volume or become unevenly shaped, it may be a result of silicone loss.
  • Lumps in or near the breast: Although silicone can leak, it will do so in small clumps. These may be visible, appearing as lumps under the skin. Although they will likely stay near the breast at first, pieces of silicone can also migrate to other areas. In such cases, the silicone will have to be removed, as it will not be absorbed by the body.
  • Soft or firm breasts: If breasts feel unusually soft or firm, this may be indicative of rupture. As an implant loses volume, the breast can become more yielding; but as tissue capsules form in the empty space, it can become firmer.

Although most women do not require revision surgery within the first ten years, cases of implant rupture or capsular contracture are common enough to be worth discussion. And while silicone implants are usually superior aesthetically, their ruptures can also be harder to detect.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

It’s helpful to know the symptoms of a ruptured implant, but the best way to detect a rupture (particularly a silicone rupture) is through an MRI scan. 

The FDA therefore suggests that patients with silicone implants undergo an MRI scan as early as three years after surgery, and every two years after that. Through the early detection of ruptures, implants can be more easily replaced and silicone removed. 

Speak with your plastic surgeon in San Francisco for more information about routine check-ups and preventative measures.

Replace Your Ruptured Implants

Don’t let a rupture lead to unnecessary complications. If you have undergone breast augmentation and believe your implants may need replacement or revision, contact your plastic surgeon immediately. 

Breast revision is performed to remove the ruptured implant and, if necessary, any troublesome scar tissue or loose silicone in the breast pocket. A replacement implant can be added at that time and a breast lift can be performed if there is any sagging. 

Interested in Learning More About Implant Rupture in San Francisco?

In the event you require a replacement, our San Francisco plastic surgery practice will help you every step of the way.

Contact us by calling (415) 924-1313 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Henry or to inquire about our cosmetic services. After your thorough consultation with Dr. Henry, an expert assessment can be made regarding your implants, and the appropriate treatment can be given.

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