The majority of breast implant ruptures cause no symptoms or health problems and can remain undetected for a long time. Nevertheless, many patients wonder how they can know if their breast implant is ruptured. And what are some of the signs of a ruptured breast implant.
A saline-filled breast implant will usually shrink and deflate when it’s ruptured. You may experience a sudden or gradual change in the size and shape of your breast, an abnormal breast shape, and pain in case your saline implant leaks.
At the same time, a ruptured silicone implant doesn’t shrink and usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. However, it can be detected with a breast MRI or ultrasound. Less commonly, when a silicone gel implant ruptures, it can cause pain, breast lumps, thickening in the breast, and changes in the breast contour.
Dr Jeremy Hunt is a specialist plastic surgeon performing breast surgery in Sydney, Australia.
What Causes a Breast Implant To Rupture?
A breast implant can be either silicone-filled or saline-filled. Either way, all types of implants have an outer silicone shell that rarely becomes torn or punctured causing the implant to rupture.
The following may cause a ruptured breast implant with any type of filling:
- Normal ageing of the implant: implants are not permanent devices. With time, the implant shell starts to wear down. As a result, the older the implant, the higher the chances it could rupture
- Damage during surgery: this is the most common cause of a ruptured breast implant. During a breast augmentation mammoplasty or breast reconstruction surgery, if a sharp surgical instrument comes in contact with the implant, it can micro-cut the implant shell and eventually cause it to rupture
- Trauma to the chest: a blunt force trauma to the chest, such as the one experienced in a car accident, for example, may cause a breast implant to rupture
- Needle insertion during a biopsy: during a breast biopsy, a biopsy needle is inserted into the breast tissue to collect tissue samples. Although a needle biopsy is safe in patients with breast implants, it needs to be performed by someone with a lot of experience to avoid puncturing the implant and rupturing it in the process
- Shell swelling: the implant’s shell can become weak if silicone leaks from the filling into the shell. Consequently, the shell will swell, weaken, and become more vulnerable to rupture
- Mechanical pressure: in very rare cases, the mechanical pressure on the chest from a mammogram or an ultrasound may cause a tear in the breast implant
Researchers suggest that the rupture of a silicone or saline breast implant is a multifactorial process. This means that a breast implant doesn’t rupture easily – you may experience more than one of the mentioned causes combined before your implant tears or leaks.
For example, your implant could become worn out with time but still doesn’t rupture until it receives a blow from an accident or another blunt force trauma to the chest.
What Are the Symptoms Of a Ruptured Breast Implant?
What happens when an implant ruptures? And how can you tell if you have a ruptured implant?
The symptoms of breast implant rupture depend on whether you have a silicone-filled breast implant or a saline-filled breast implant.
In general, you should suspect a ruptured implant if you experience one of the following symptoms:
- Changes in the size or shape of your breasts
- Pain, firmness, or swelling in the breast
- A visible breast deformity
- A tingling sensation in the breast
- Changes in nipple sensitivity
- Capsular contracture (a hard and dense capsule around the implant)
- Breast granulomas (small areas of inflammation in the breast)
However, the rupture of a saline implant is different from the rupture of a silicone implant.
Silicone vs saline implant rupture
Saline breast implants are usually inserted empty into the chest through a small incision. After they’re in place, the implant will be filled with sterile salt water (saline).
When a saline implant ruptures, the saline water inside of it will leak out causing the implant to shrink and collapse. Consequently, you might want to consider that your saline implant has ruptured in case you notice the following:
- A distorted breast appearance
- Loss of fullness in the upper pole of the breast
- An abnormal breast shape
- Visible rippling or apparent implant edges
Even though a ruptured saline implant can affect the shape of your breast, it doesn’t usually cause any health concerns – the leaking saline is just sterile water that will be naturally absorbed by your body.
On the other hand, unlike a saline implant, when a silicone implant ruptures, it doesn’t collapse and usually doesn’t change the shape or size of your breast. Instead, the silicone remains stuck inside a layer that forms around the implant.
A ruptured silicone implant that doesn’t cause any problems and remains undetected for a long time is known as a “silent rupture”. You may not know you have a silent implant rupture until you get an ultrasound or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) for your breasts.
You may suspect that your silicone implant has ruptured in case you experience the following symptoms:
- Breast pain
- Breast thickening
- Lumps in or around the breast
- Changes in the contour or shape of the breast
You can make sure that your silicone gel implant is still in good condition by getting an MRI 3 years after your breast surgery and once every 2 years after that.
During your follow-up with Dr Hunt, he will give your breasts a thorough examination to make sure that all is well with your implants and that everything is in place.
How Common Is Implant Rupture?
Ruptured breast implants aren’t that common – implant rupture rates are very low, especially in the early years after you get your implants. As the implant ages, it becomes somehow more likely to rupture, but not by much.
Breast implants have been used for several decades. During this time, their safety and efficiency have been heavily investigated.
Over the years, implant manufacturers have made significant changes in the design of implants to make them stronger, safer, and more durable.
The third generation of implants with multilayered shells is now available and has significantly reduced the risk of rupture. Modern implants can last up to 35 years and remain intact without rupturing. Nevertheless, a revision surgery is usually needed after 10-15 years to address the breasts and erase some of the signs of ageing – even if the implants are still intact.
The rupture rates of an implant depend on:
- The manufacturer of the implant
- The shape of the implant
- The age of the implant
- The implant filling (silicone or saline)
- Type of breast surgery (primary augmentation mammoplasty, revision augmentation, primary reconstruction, revision reconstruction)
These are all factors that can affect how easily an implant ruptures. In general, implants are hard to rupture even as the implant ages.
Long-term data from one implant manufacturer showed that 8 years after a breast augmentation mammoplasty, implant ruptures occurred in less than 6.5% of the patients. Even 10 years after breast surgery, less than 10% of the patients had ruptured implants.
Moreover, 98% of patients who received more modern implants were rupture-free 5 years after receiving the breast implant. Even after 10 years, around 85% of those patients were still implant rupture-free.
How Is the Implant Rupture Treated?
Although a ruptured breast implant usually doesn’t pose any health risks, you’ll probably need surgery to remove the ruptured implant.
Whether it’s saline or a silicone implant, Dr Hunt will surgically remove the damaged implant. If you’d like, he can also replace it with a new one during the same surgery.
In case you have a silicone implant that has ruptured but isn’t bothering you or causing you any trouble, you may be able to keep it in. A silent rupture will not change the shape of your breast and wouldn’t cause you any health problems.
Therefore, you can discuss with Dr Hunt whether you want to remove the ruptured silicone implant, replace it, or keep it in place.
What Are The Complications Of Implant Rupture?
A lot of research has been dedicated to the complications following the rupture of a breast implant.
So far, studies found no link between breast implant rupture and any health concerns. According to research so far, a ruptured breast implant:
- Will NOT increase your risk of breast cancer
- Will NOT cause any connective tissue or autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
Most implant ruptures pose no health risks and a lot of them are undetectable. One known complication of a ruptured breast implant is capsular contracture– a condition where the tissue around the implant hardens and tightens.
What To Do When You Suspect a Ruptured Breast Implant?
If you think your implant is leaking or that you may have a ruptured implant, contact your plastic surgeon immediately.
By performing a physical examination, ultrasound, or MRI, Dr Hunt will be able to determine whether your implant is damaged or intact.
Your implant can be surgically removed (explanted) and replaced with a new one. In case of the silent rupture of a silicone implant, you might not need surgery at all. Dr Hunt will recommend that you keep an eye on any changes or discomfort in your breast to make sure the implant won’t cause you any trouble.
FAQs about Implant Rupture
Does insurance cover a ruptured implant?
- Most insurance companies only cover medically necessary cosmetic procedures. Therefore, you may be covered if your breast implant ruptures and causes infections, chronic breast pain, severe corpuscular contracture, or other health concerns.
Does a ruptured implant need to be removed?
- A ruptured breast implant is usually removed if it’s causing breast deformities, physical discomfort, or health problems. A ruptured saline breast implant usually causes an irregular breast shape and requires surgical removal. Alternatively, a ruptured silicone implant doesn’t usually change the shape of the breast and can be left in if it isn’t causing any other discomfort.
Is a leaking breast implant an emergency?
- The rupture of a breast implant is not a medical emergency. Nonetheless, you must replace your ruptured breast implant as soon as you can to fix the shape of your breast and avoid possible capsular contracture (internal scar tissue formation).
How long can you leave a ruptured implant?
- Theoretically, you can leave a ruptured breast implant in as long as you’d like if it’s not causing you any pain or discomfort. The deflated or torn implant shell will not affect your health. However, the longer the damaged implant stays in, the more difficult its removal will be later on. Most patients prefer to remove and replace their implants as soon as possible after the rupture to restore the cosmetically appealing appearance of their breasts.
What do ruptured implants look like?
- The signs of a leaking saline implant include breast ripples, visible implant edges, and deflated breasts. If one of your saline implants ruptures, you might notice that one of your breasts is starting to look smaller or remarkably different than your other breast. On the other hand, in some cases, a ruptured silicone breast implant can cause noticeable lumps or thickening in or around the breast. In other cases, it might not cause any physical changes to the breast.
Can a ruptured implant make you sick?
- Different studies have found no link or connection between a ruptured breast implant and any health problems. There have been some reports of symptoms experienced by women after their implant rupture. Nonetheless, there has been no scientific evidence to support or prove that those symptoms were caused by implant rupture.
Further Reading about Breast Procedures
- Read Dr Hunt’s Breast Surgery page
- Read Dr Hunt’s Breast Implant Revision Before and After Photos
- Read Dr Hunt’s blog about Choosing the Right Breast Implant Size
- Read Dr Hunt’s blog about Round vs Anatomical Implants
- See Dr Hunt’s Real Patient Breast Surgery Before and After Photos
- Silicone breast implant rupture: a review – PMC
- A Retrospective Analysis of Ruptured Breast Implants – PMC
- Breast implant rupture: causes, incidence, clinical impact, and management
- Breast Implant Rupture – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf
- Inadvertent Rupture of a Silicone Breast Implant during Fat Grafting: Surgical and Radiological Findings – PMC
About Dr Jeremy Hunt – Specialist Plastic Surgeon
Dr Jeremy Hunt is a specialist plastic surgeon performing breast, body, face and nose surgery in Australia. He is a member of FRACS & ASPS and has over 20 years of experience providing cosmetic and plastic surgery in Sydney.
Dr Hunt’s personal, one-on-one service and attention to detail has ensured that thousands of women and men from the Sydney & Wollongong NSW area and across Australia have received high quality surgical care.
Dr Hunt’s qualifications and education
Dr Jeremy A Hunt MBBS FRACS graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine degree from Sydney University in 1990 and is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and member of ASPS – the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons. He completed a Fellowship at the prestigious University of Texas in the United States, where he learnt from some of the world’s very best plastic surgeons.
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Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health professional.