The Long-Term Effects of Breast Augmentation: What to Expect over Time
Breast augmentation surgery can alter your aesthetic appearance by making breasts appear fuller, more symmetrical, or larger. Whether you are seeking to counter the natural effects of aging, restore your appearance after breast cancer as part of a breast reconstruction plan, or enhance your natural breasts, a breast augmentation procedure can help you achieve your goals.
As with any medical procedure, it is important to understand the risks associated with breast augmentation. Sharing your goals, medical history, and concerns with an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon is the best way to understand the long-term effects of breast augmentation.
Understanding the basics of breast augmentation
Breast augmentation alters the appearance of the breasts with the insertion of either breast implants or fat from another part of the body, such as the hips or buttocks. Both breast augmentation techniques can adjust the shape, size, or symmetry of the breasts to help individuals achieve their ideal aesthetic appearance. In some cases, breast augmentation is combined with a breast lift procedure to tighten skin or lift breast tissue.
Individuals electing to have breast augmentation with implants have two options: silicone implants and saline implants.
Here are important factors to consider:
- Silicone implants generally offer a more natural look and feel than saline implants.
- Silicone gel-filled breast implants may also last longer than saline implants.
- Saline implants are more adjustable and require smaller incisions.
Breast implants also vary in terms of placement site, incision site, and size. Consulting with an experienced plastic surgeon may help you determine the best options for you based on your lifestyle, current breast size and shape, and goals for the procedure.
Note that breast implants are not designed to last a lifetime, but unless they leak, rupture, move, or cause breast pain, they can last anywhere from 10–25 years.
Recovery after breast augmentation surgery differs depending on the patient's age, health history, and ability to follow recovery guidelines. Individuals should plan to have a friend or family member accompany them to the procedure who can care for them for at least 24 hours after surgery since everyday activities such as lifting, driving, and getting dressed will be restricted at first.
Pain medications will be provided for the first week, along with a custom post-surgical bra that must be worn to adequately support the new breasts. Pain is generally minimal but may feel like a muscular soreness in the upper body and chest.
For individuals with sedentary jobs, taking at least 2–3 days off of work is advised. Exercise such as light walking is recommended in the first few days after surgery, but higher-intensity upper-body workouts should be limited for up to 4–6 weeks post-surgery. Your plastic surgeon will advise when you can safely return to full activity levels.
Some individuals may experience a buildup of fluid or blood, called a seroma or a hematoma, respectively, in or around the surgical site after the procedure. In some cases, this may require draining at the plastic surgeon’s office or the placement of a surgical drain at home.
Many individuals in the U.S. have a breast augmentation procedure performed every year, and the majority of them never experience any long-term effects from the procedure. However, it is important to be aware of all potential long-term implications of undergoing a breast implant procedure beyond reading the boxed warning.
Discussing the risks and benefits of breast augmentation with your plastic surgeon can help you move forward confidently toward your new silhouette.
Long-term impacts from breast augmentation fall into two categories: aesthetic changes and medical concerns.
Possible aesthetic changes related to breast augmentation
Individuals who have undergone a breast augmentation procedure may notice their breasts begin to droop over time. This may be more pronounced in individuals who have had larger implants inserted. Remedies include a breast lift or breast implant revision.
Some individuals notice several years after breast augmentation surgery that their implant is visible through the skin or that their breasts appear wrinkled. These changes are often most noticeable in individuals with saline implants and among those with lower body fat levels.
In rare cases, breast implants may leak, rupture, or shift in the chest wall, which can cause breasts to appear uneven or misshapen. This is generally caused by trauma, compression of the breasts, or aging. If you notice a sudden change in your breast appearance, you may be experiencing a breast implant rupture. Implant removal may be necessary to restore the appearance of the breasts.
Uncommon medical concerns related to breast augmentation
After a breast augmentation, some individuals may experience rare side effects from these medical devices. For instance, some individuals who have breast implants placed via a nipple incision may experience a temporary change in nipple sensation. For 90% of individuals, nipple sensation gradually returns over time.
Although breast augmentation will not affect the ability to breastfeed, the procedure can disrupt the milk ducts, which can make it more difficult to transfer milk when breastfeeding. If you intend to breastfeed, share your breastfeeding goals with your plastic surgeon prior to your procedure.
Occasionally, scar tissue around the implant compresses the implant over time, causing capsular contracture. This can cause breast pain, movement of the implant, or implant rupture.
Adjusting to your breast augmentation
After a breast augmentation, it may take some time to adjust to the look and feel of your new breasts.
For example, breasts may feel heavier than normal, and for some individuals, the added weight may strain the back, neck, or shoulders. Practicing upper body strengthening exercises can help reduce pain and increase strength.
Initially, the breasts may feel high on the chest or as if they are protruding more than normal. It takes a few weeks for the breasts to rest in their final position, but with time, they should look and feel more natural.
After breast augmentation, it may be necessary to purchase new bras to support your larger breasts. You may also need to purchase new tops and dresses depending on the chosen implant size.
If you are accustomed to sleeping on your stomach, you will need to learn to sleep on your back for the first week after surgery. Not only will this position be the most comfortable, but it will also help preserve the shape of your breast implants and will reduce the risk of breast implant rupture.
Taking care of your implants
To keep your breast implants looking natural for as long as possible, wear a supportive bra during the day. Especially during the recovery period, follow all activity restrictions to ensure that implants do not shift, rupture, or deflate as they settle in the chest wall.
Maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise and a balanced diet can also help ensure the aesthetic appearance of your breasts over time. Weight gain may cause your breasts to look larger than anticipated or sag prematurely.
For the best post-surgical results, work with an experienced plastic surgeon
Scheduling a consultation with an expert plastic surgeon can help you understand the long-term implications of breast augmentation surgery and confidently achieve your desired silhouette. Look for a provider who is certified by the American Society for Plastic Surgeons.
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