Breast Augmentation Surgery: Potential Risks

Breast augmentation and breast lift (mastopexy) procedures can dramatically improve the femininity and self confidence of women seeking enhancement of their breasts. The majority of women having breast augmentation will travel through their procedure uneventfully. There are certain things after the operation that should be expected, such as swelling, mild to moderate discomfort, and temporary numbness – these should be communicated to the patient prior to surgery. The benefits of having a breast augmentation or lift should also be balanced with comprehensive discussion on the potential risks and complications of undergoing the procedure.

As common as it is, and as much as it is promoted, discussed, and popularised in social and popular media, the potential risks of breast augmentation and lift should never be trivialised. It is still a surgical procedure, and all surgical procedures carry potential risks. The list of possible complications of breast augmentation and lift is exhaustive, but the important ones include:

  1. Bleeding. If bleeding is significant enough, this may warrant a return to the operating theatre, and evacuation of the haematoma (collection of blood) and identification and cessation of the source of bleeding. The signs of bleeding include an increase in pain and swelling/size of the breast. If this occurs, you should immediately contact your surgeon or hospital emergency department.
  2. Infection. This is rare. However, if an infection develops around the implant becomes severe enough, it may be necessary to remove the implant and clean out the wound.
  3. Numbness. This usually recovers after several weeks, but may persist for longer in some women.
  4. Capsular Contracture. This is scarring around the implant which may be severe enough to cause symptoms. It can occur in the short term or many years after placement of the silicone implants. The body will naturally form a layer of scar tissue around the silicone implant – this is expected, normal, and is called a capsule. A capsular contracture occurs when the scar tissue becomes thick and firm enough to cause discomfort, palpable hardness, and visible deformity. A surgical procedure may be required (capsulectomy) to remove the capsule if symptoms are severe enough.
  5. Asymmetry. There can be many reasons why breast may appear not exactly symmetrical after an augmentation or lift procedure. It may be related swelling, capsular contracture, or due to technical aspects of the pocket creation, pectorals muscle release, nipple positioning, degree of skin adjustment, and establishing the inframammary fold. The implants may take several weeks to settle into their final position whilst the swelling dissipates, and it is important during this time that you diligently wear the supportive garment provided.
  6. Complications related to the general anaesthesia. These include blood clots, chemical imbalances, and heart and lung related issues.

Whilst complications after breast augmentation and lift surgery are not common, when they do occur, they can impact upon the patient’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and cause a significant setback in their overall expectation. It is important at this time that the patient is fully informed of and understands what is occurring and the possible reasons behind it. Sometimes, however, a complication can occur without any clear reason and even after the most perfectly executed surgery. Whatever may be the case, it is important that the surgeon communicates to the patient how the problem can be fixed (if a secondary procedure is indicated) and what is to be expected.