"As much as I love my implants, my body is fighting them and recognizes it as something obviously foreign in my body."

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Clare Crawley is opening up about her decision to have her breast implants removed over concerns they're impacting her health.

The Bachelorette star shared the news in a video posted to Instagram that she titled, "Coming to Terms."

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Credit: Getty Images

"I'm sharing this in hopes that it might help others going through something similar feel not so alone," Crawley, 40, wrote in the caption. "I feel that this was important to share so I can be a resource for anyone going though this as well. I know how being your own health advocate is hard sometimes, and can feel like an uphill battle. This is the reality of life for so many people though! I'm just so incredibly thankful to all the people who are in my life that support me not only in my peaks but in the valleys as well."

In the video, Crawley revealed that she's been struggling with persistent medical issues over several years. "I've been going through things medically with my body that I have not had answers to, to be honest," she said. "My skin has been having really bad hives and rash. My whole body is just inflamed and itchy."

Crawley said that she's also had "blood test after blood test" and seen several doctors. But test results didn't give her answers about what is going on in her body.

After having two mammograms and an ultrasound—which reveled what she said were sacs of fluid behind her implants—she consulted with her doctor and decided to have her implants removed. "As much as I love my implants, my body is fighting them and recognizes it as something obviously foreign in my body," she said, adding that blood tests showed an elevated white blood cell count over the past few years. "My body can't heal. My body is in fight mode, constantly. It's exhausting, it's frustrating. It's all making sense."

While Crawley said that her decision isn't the right one for everyone, it's what's best for her. "My health is the most important thing. They are coming out," she said.

Crawley received messages of support in the comments, including from Kayla Lochte, wifeof Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, who shared in March that she had her implants removed over health concerns—specifically she specifically cited as breast implant illness (BII). "Best of luck Clare! Get those toxic bags out," she said.

While Crawley herself didn't specifically say that she has BII, she implies it. Here's what you need to know about the condition—and what to do if you think your breast implants may be impacting your health.

What is breast implant illness, exactly?

It's important to get this out of the way upfront: Breast implant illness (again, BII) isn't a medical diagnosis, and there are no hard numbers on how often BII happens. "This is a poorly defined and controversial complication as there aren't many studies for or against it—in fact, we don't even know the true rate of implication for those who experience breast implant illness," Saul Lahijan, MD, owner and plastic surgeon at the Beverly Hills Institute of Plastic Surgery, tells Health.

That said, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded last year that breast implants should have a "black box" warning to help women make "informed decisions" about potential risks associated with breast implants, including BII, which the FDA labels as "systemic symptoms." It's also important to note that BII is different from breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that can develop following breast implants, per the FDA.

BII is tricky to diagnose. "The symptoms women report are pretty nonspecific, and could be related to another illness," Janie Grumley, MD, a breast surgical oncologist and director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence Saint John's Center and associate professor of surgery at Saint John's Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health. "It ends up being that, once we've worked out everything else and can't figure out what's going on, that's when we think the issue may be breast implants."

Research has suggested this is a real health concern. One July 2020 retrospective study published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery looked at 750 patients who had their breast implants removed by a surgeon over a two-year period. Researchers found that patients had "significant and sustained improvement" in 11 different symptoms after surgery. Patients found their symptoms improved within 30 days after having their implants removed.

Another study published in the same journal in January 2019, found that people with silicone breast implants had higher rates of the autoimmune conditions Sjogren syndrome, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis than those who don't have implants. They also had a higher risk of stillbirth and melanoma.

Why might breast implants make some people sick?

"All breast implants have a silicone shell that also contains various chemicals and small amounts of heavy metals," Constance M. Chen, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, tells Health. "Some breast implants also have a silicone filling that can leach off an intact implant or spill out of a ruptured implant. The silicone, chemicals, and/or heavy metals in the body can make some women sick."

Having a foreign object inside your body can also cause a physical reaction, women's health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Health. "As a result, their bodies mount an inflammation response," she says.

Scar tissue usually develops around the implant inside the body in an attempt to protect it from the "invader," Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Center for Health Research who has researched breast implant safety, tells Health. "For some women, the scar tissue provides the protection they need, and they feel fine," she says. "For other women, their bodies react more strongly, with an autoimmune reaction or other kind of reaction."

What are the symptoms of breast implant illness?

The symptoms can vary per patient, but they tend to mimic those of an autoimmune disease, Dr. Grumley says. They can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Brain fog
  • Sleep issues
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry eyes
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • GI issues
  • Hair loss

"The symptoms are almost everywhere, from head to toe," Dr. Grumley says. "That's why it's so hard for us to pinpoint the problem."

It's also important to point out that while there is still no direct correlation between patients with breast implants and symptoms of BII, it's still something to take seriously. "BII patients and their symptoms must be handled with care, as these symptoms can affect [a person's] daily life," Dr. Lahijan says. "In addition, it is important to document these cases and symptoms further for future research."

What should you do if you suspect your implants might be causing your health issues?

You should talk to your doctor, Dr. Grumley says. Just know this, per Dr. Zuckerman: There's no test that can tell if the implants are making you sick while they're still in your body. But, she says, "if women find that they are developing symptoms that don't go away, they should consider getting their implants and the scar capsule removed."

It's important to see a doctor who has experience in breast implant removal, Dr. Zuckerman says. Not only do they know what they're doing, they'll also know to remove the scar tissue that's formed, which can contain silicone gel. If they don't, "the chances of your health improving is not as good," she explains.

But first, Dr. Grunley recommends that you get checked for other conditions. "We have to rule out autoimmune conditions," she says. Breast implant removal is surgery, which comes with its own risks, and it can change the appearance of your breasts, she points out. "There's a lot to consider," Dr. Grunley says. "Making a good, informed decision is the best thing you can do."

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