Life With Breast Implants: Your Top Questions About Healing, Maintenance, and Replacement Answered
Most patients are beaming when I walk into the room for their 6-month postoperative checkup. Their happiness is one of the reasons that I love to perform breast augmentation: for the right patient, it’s a gift of confidence that only a plastic surgeon can provide.
Still, it’s natural for even the happiest of patients to have questions about their implants along the way. To give you a better sense of what to expect in the weeks, months, and years you will spend with your breast implants, below are answers to the questions about life with implants that I hear most often from my patients.
What is recovery like after breast augmentation?
Every woman will experience different levels of pain and discomfort during the recovery process. Some may find recovery to be quite painless, while others find that they heal a little more slowly. After breast augmentation, most patients require 1-2 days of prescription pain medication, and about that same amount of time off work.
Recovery is uncomfortable at first, and you will feel groggy. Still, you will need to be up and walking around after surgery to prevent blood clots. The day after surgery, you will be able to shower. A majority of women should be able to return to most of their normal daily activity within a week, but you will need to avoid any strenuous exercise and heavy lifting for up to 6 weeks after the procedure.
These time frames are all approximate; if it takes longer than expected to heal, that is okay! Don’t rush the process. Following recovery protocols is vital when it comes to achieving ideal results. It is imperative that you allow your chest to completely heal before you return to more physically demanding activities.
While healing can’t be rushed, it can be optimized, and in my practice, I do everything I can to help patients get back to their normal activities quickly. I will provide you with detailed, personalized instructions to guide you through every step from preparation to recovery, as well as a copy of my book on pre- and post-surgical nutrition, Eat, Drink, Heal.
What if I am unhappy with my breast augmentation scars?
Breast augmentation will leave scars, and these will fade within a few months but likely not disappear completely. Breast augmentation incisions are made in areas that are not easily seen—usually in the natural fold under your breast (inframammary) or around your areola (peri-areolar).
Your surgeon’s skill will potentially help optimize the appearance of your scar, as will adherence to your aftercare instructions. But there is no such thing as a scarless breast surgery, and no surgeon can erase scars.
If you have a breast lift at the same time, additional incisions that are more visible on the breast will be needed to provide shaping and lifting. Either way, following scar care instructions can go a long way towards helping your incisions heal beautifully.
There is no such thing as a scarless breast surgery, and no surgeon can erase scars—it’s problematic if they say that they can. Your surgeon’s skill will potentially help optimize the appearance of your scar, as will adherence to your aftercare instructions. But other factors can come into play during healing, and scars are unpredictable.
Most patients have no problem with the minimal scars they are left with, but you should talk honestly with your surgeon if you are concerned about your scars’ appearance. Some individuals are prone to abnormal scarring, and there may be a treatment to help minimize your scar’s appearance.
What sort of maintenance do breast implants require?
Preventive checkups are essential to preserving results from your breast augmentation surgery. After age 40, women should have regular mammogram screenings to monitor breast health and detect breast cancer—this is still the case with implants. The only difference is that you should let your radiologist know that you have implants. You may require what is called an Eklund Displacement View to scan all of your breast tissue.
Continue to go for regular mammograms, but let your radiologist know that you have implants before the scan so that they can use the appropriate techniques for scanning augmented breasts.
Secondly, if you have silicone implants, you will need to monitor for ruptures with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound tests. This is because a silicone breast implant can rupture without presenting visible symptoms. Thankfully, the current silicone implants all have cohesive fillings that won’t migrate in the body even in the event of an issue, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still recommends that women who have silicone-gel-filled implants have an MRI three years after their breast augmentation and every two years after that. Certain providers may offer ultrasound imaging as an alternative to MRI for monitoring implants.
Do I need to replace my breast implants every 10 years?
This is one of the biggest myths on the internet, and the answer is a resounding no! However, breast implants are not considered to be lifetime devices, and eventually they do need to be replaced. But simply changing implants out on a regular basis (like changing oil) is definitely not necessary.
What is breast implant exchange surgery and recovery like?
You likely won’t “need” to replace your implants for over a decade, but when you do, you can use it as an opportunity to update your size, shape, or look. You can also update to a different implant feel: many women switch from saline to modern silicone implants.
If you still like your look and don’t need a breast lift, breast implant replacement surgery is quite straightforward, with recovery often being faster and less painful than the initial breast augmentation. Surgeons often use the existing incision sites to remove and replace the implants to avoid any new scars.
Just like with breast augmentation, if and when you have your implants replaced, it is essential that you follow recovery rules and allow your breasts to fully heal.
If you don’t wish to have your implants replaced, they can instead be removed, and—depending on your anatomy and goals—your surgeon can reshape your breasts with a lift or fat transfer.
You may need a breast lift as part of your breast implant exchange
If you’ve had your implants for numerous years, your breasts have likely stretched over time with the implants, so a breast lift may be needed to get attractive results. This procedure can be done as part of the implant replacement operation. It does increase recovery time, but is often important to achieving ideal results.
How many additional surgeries can I expect over time?
Any physician that says that you’re never going to have to have another surgery is not being transparent. (Nor should you believe any surgeon who insists that you switch out your implants every ten years.) You should expect additional surgery over time, but the timing of that surgery boils down to what your needs are and how you age.
Many patients return either to have their implants repositioned or their breasts lifted after pregnancy, weight loss, or other changes to their body shape. A number of patients will return after 15-20 years, saying their implants are fine, but that they’re thinking of going bigger or smaller. Others visit my office for 20- and 30-year checkups, still happy with their implants.
Why do some women choose to have breast implant revision surgery?
There are a few main reasons why patients may seek breast implant revision surgery:
- They are experiencing capsular contracture. The most common breast implant complication worldwide, capsular contracture (hardened scar tissue around the implants) must be treated with breast implant revision surgery.
- They received poor results. Some patients are disappointed with their results, often due to a negative experience with an unskilled surgeon.
- They want a new look or feel. In many cases, patients seek out revision because they want to exchange their implants for a different size or fill type, i.e. the natural-feeling new generation of silicone implants.
Whatever the case may be, it is important to seek a surgeon with special expertise in breast augmentation revision surgery.
What if I want to have my breast implants removed?
Over the years, I have heard a wide range of reasons why patients chose to remove their breast implants. Some have undergone a personal transformation, and they no longer identify with their augmented breasts. Others no longer like the way they look or find that they get in the way of their new, active lifestyle (think: rock climbing). Just as you may outgrow a tattoo, you may no longer want augmented breasts. There is no wrong reason.
To ensure you get a beautiful result from your removal procedure, find a board-certified surgeon, and vet them just as rigorously as you would for your breast augmentation procedure. I emphasize to my patients that this is your body and your decision. If you want to remove your breast implants, then I am happy to help.
Consult with a surgeon who has a passion for breast augmentation
Board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Gregory A. Buford is here to answer your questions and help you learn more about breast augmentation in Denver. To schedule a consultation, contact us online or call 303-747-6719.