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Breast implants

Plastic surgery has made it possible to transform just about every part of the body, from the nose to the thighs and almost everything in between. For women who would like larger breasts for cosmetic reasons, there is breast augmentation surgery, which places implants under the breast tissue or chest muscle to increase the breast size. Women who have small breasts, or whose breasts have lost their fullness after pregnancy or weight loss, may be candidates for breast implants.

Although breast implants can be used for reconstructive purposes (for example, after the breasts are removed because of cancer) this article covers cosmetic breast augmentation only. It discusses the types of breast implants available, the procedures used, and the complications that can occur.

Before considering breast implants, seek medical advice about whether they are right for you, how long they will last and any safety concerns about breast implants.

Types of breast implants

There are two types of breast implants: saline and silicone.

Saline-filled implants are silicone shells filled with sterile salt water (saline). Silicone-filled implants are silicone shells filled with a plastic gel (silicone). Many women say that silicone implants feel more like real breasts than saline.

The cost of breast implants varies depending on the type and treatment centre.

The NHS rarely funds cosmetic breast implant surgery, so most women pay to have the surgery privately.

To qualify for breast implants on the NHS, you would have to show the appearance of your breasts causes you significant psychological distress caused by:

  • Severe underdevelopment of breast tissue
  • Severe asymmetry (significantly uneven breasts)
  • A congenital abnormality

Eligibility may also depend on your local primary care trust. Your GP will be able to advise you about availability in your area.

How the breast implant procedure is performed

Not everyone is eligible for breast implant surgery. A surgeon will review your medical history and overall health.

You will not be able to have breast implant surgery if you:

  • Are under 18 
  • Are pregnant
  • Are breast-feeding
  • Have malignant (cancerous) or pre-malignant breast cancer that has not been fully treated
  • Have a medical condition that could increase your risk from surgery or the general anaesthetic, or increase your risk of infection
  • Have an active infection anywhere in your body.

You may be asked to stop taking certain medications a few days or weeks before your operation. Breast implant surgery is sometimes carried out as day surgery, enabling you to go home the same day. But in some cases you may need an overnight hospital stay.

You will probably be given general anaesthesia, in which you are asleep and pain free. The incision may be made under the breast, under the arm, or around the nipple, depending on your body, the type of implant, and how much enlargement is being done.

The breast implant is inserted into a pocket either above or below the chest muscle. Once the implants are in place, the incisions will be sealed using sutures (stitches), which will usually be covered with a dressing.

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