A Calmar, Alta. woman who says she started feeling ill a few months after she got breast implants in 2007, is speaking out about how she thinks the symptoms are related to her procedure.
Nadine Zilke is among nearly 40,000 members of a Facebook forum about implant illness. She says many of the women’s symptoms are similar to hers.
“I can’t move in any position to make myself feel better because it feels like someone is stabbing me in the gut,” said Zilke.
It started with unexplained pain in her liver, kidney and stomach. Over the past decade, she’s been dealing with headaches, acne, rashes, excessive sweating and sleep issues. Doctors told her it’s all in her head.
“I was called a hypochondriac,” Zilke says.
“It’s almost like you get scared to talk about it because… you’re afraid everyone thinks you’re mental.”
Zilke recently flew to Dallas, Texas and paid more than $8,000 USD to have her implants removed by the only plastic surgeon she could find who took her concerns seriously.
Dr. Edward Melmed suspects issues with implants are underreported. He says women can have a systemic reaction to the silicone shell of implants.
“It appears to be an autoimmune response where the body does not like the foreign material,” Melmed says.
“The immune system kicks in and gives [patients] a whole lot of symptoms, which are very typical and very common and worldwide, are the same.”
Dr. Feng Chong, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Alberta, disagrees.
“As plastic surgeons, we’re not disputing that some women do develop these symptoms, but the fact is that it’s not due to breast implants,” Chong says.
Chong says implants do come with risks. Up to two per cent of patients develop infection, bleeding or hardening of surrounding tissue. And breast implants are associated with a rare blood cancer.
But Chong points out it’s important to have some perspective.
“Silicone is used in much more than breast implants,” Chong says. “For example, it’s used in spinal implants, artificial joints… it’s used in heart valves, pacemakers.
“Breast implants are by far one of the most studied medical devices out there. There are thousands of studies, and what they’ve shown is that breast implants are safe.”
Zilke doesn’t believe the studies. The mother of four also had the scar tissue around each implant removed, because she was concerned about toxins inside. She’s also worried her children may have been exposed to any chemicals in her body.
“I think our bodies just know when we are really sick. And I’m just trusting my gut.”
According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, over 1.6 million breast augmentation surgeries were performed around the world in 2016.