WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Breast implants are the most popular form of plastic surgery in the United States. Katie Krug’s followed a botched breast reduction.
“There were quite a few people that asked me when I was in a bathing suit if I had open heart surgery, so it was something that I was really self-conscious about,” said Krug.
Krug’s friend Lisa Miller received hers while living in Arizona.
“I was just in a place where everyone had them, you kind of look outwardly and everyone had them,” said Miller.
What the women say happened next was not something they expected post-surgery.
“About a year later is when I started noticing some really small symptoms. I was tired a lot more, started having some brain fog, started being really sensitive to smells, and then it just seemed like every year it got worse,” said Krug.
“I would get really dizzy all of a sudden when I would be driving, I would get nauseous, then it moved into GI symptoms, so I started to have gastritis and had to have scopes and medicines,” said Miller.
Both women say they went to doctors who couldn’t figure out what was wrong, all while new symptoms were developing.
“I wasn’t sleeping whatsoever, I was staying up all night, I almost couldn’t work, I couldn’t remember, I was teaching Pilates at that time, I couldn’t remember what I was teaching, I really couldn’t get out of bed,” Miller explained.
After not finding any answers from doctors, Miller tried adjusting her life style.
“Cleaned the house, cleaned all the chemicals, all my beauty products, ate really well, I remember my girlfriend saying, after confiding in her, ‘you’re the sickest, healthiest person I know,'” she said.
Krug says in 2011, she asked her doctor about rumors that there may be a connection between her implants and the autoimmune disease she’d been diagnosed with.
“He pretty much just laughed in my face about the possibility of there even being a link, that they’re completely safe, they’re saline, I don’t have anything to worry about, and so I just really put that out of my mind until last year,” she said.
Meanwhile, Miller was at the end of her wits.
“I just remember like, laying on the floor one night and telling my husband, ‘I’m done! I’m done, I can’t manage life,'” she said.
Miller said her husband discovered the only thing that changed before the symptoms started showing up was her surgery, and after doing some research found a Facebook group of 35,000 women, all claiming similar symptoms. Around the same time, Krug found the page, too.
“I just felt I’m not crazy, there are other people out there like me, I see hope,” said Miller.
“I really wanted to cry when I found that page, it was so emotional for me,” said Krug.
The women in the group believe they are suffering or had suffered from something being called breast implant illness, although experts say it’s a symptomatic reaction rather than an actual disease.
“If you’re putting a foreign object in your body, it would be the same as someone saying that nobody gets a side effect from taking a medication. It’s very unrealistic,” said Josh Rose.
Rose is the patient concierge at Aqua Plastic Surgery in southern Florida. He works hand-in-hand with Dr. David Rankin, who he says performs hundreds of breast explant operations a year. However, he is quick to point out that as of now, there is very little published research linking the implants to these symptoms.
“There should be more research. There has been some research, so most of what we have to go by is very anecdotal. We’re hoping there will be more research. We’re starting our own research, another doctor is starting her own research,” said Rose.
Miller and Krug consulted with a local plastic surgeon who performs explants and had theirs removed. They say they immediately started feeling better.
“Really within a week I was feeling different, the bags under my eyes were gone, my vision was back to 20/20, so I could see some improvements right away,” said Krug.
“All the inflammation, the redness, I was having rashes, I was swollen, all of that, it was like it trickled out of my body, and what I always say is it was like my body could take a breath of fresh air. But I remember one of the biggest things is I was driving and I turned on a song on the radio and I felt this feeling that I haven’t felt, and I just thought, ‘what is that?’ I realized that was joy, and I hadn’t felt that in a really long time,” said Miller.
In 2011, the FDA released a study that noted breast implants are no longer considered a “lifetime device” and should be examined or replaced every eight to 10 years.
Rose hopes the research being started will help establish an officially recognized link to side effects like the ones Miller and Krug say they experienced, but for now he says it’s about both patients and doctors doing their own research and making a decision that is best for them.
“I think it’s all about informed consent. It’s letting the patient know as a consumer, as an adult, that just like in medication there are potential side effects, there are potential long-term and short-term negative responses the body can have,” said Rose.
Although many women live life with breast implants complication-free, the FDA says as many as 20% of women need to have their implants removed within 8-10 years.