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‘My entire body was shutting down.’ Breast implant recipients say doctors gloss over risks

The ailments listed on Nikki Carruthers’ medical chart read as follows: blackouts, memory loss, fainting, vomiting, thyroid problems, angina, hypertension, heart palpitations, high-blood pressure, migraines, chest pain, ulcers, depression, anxiety and exhaustion that keeps her in bed for at least 18 hours a day.

Carruthers, 29, had barely seen the inside of a doctor’s office until 2013 when she decided to get breast implants. The cascading health issues that followed have triggered dozens of hospital and doctor visits.
“My entire body was shutting down,” says the Winnipeger, who has been unable to work since July. “My throat is burning and hurts to swallow. It feels like someone is sitting on my chest when I try to breathe.”

The promotional machine driving the $1-billion international breast implant industry runs on tastefully lit, aspirational images of perfect bodies, glowing testimonials and inspirations from celebrities — but provides little mention of the potential risks, a Toronto Star/CBC Marketplace investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has found.

Carruthers is among the increasing number of women across Canada who suffer health complications they believe are associated with their breast implants. They also believe they were misled by surgeons who reassured them that the health concerns of the 1990s were addressed more than a decade ago.

Breast implants are the most popular cosmetic surgery in the world with 10 million women opting for the devices during the past decade. Most have not reported adverse health issues and some studies point to high satisfaction rates.

There remains no straight line, cause-and-effect linking breast implants directly to auto-immune illness, known as breast implant illness. Recent research, published in respected medical journals and conducted over the past decade, is raising concerns that information about autoimmune illnesses is often not communicated to women considering the procedure.

The Star has interviewed nearly two dozen women who have health issues they attribute to their breast implants, including three with a rare cancer known as BIA-ALCL. All of them said their surgeons provided few warnings about the known risks.

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