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Breast Augmentation Surgery

What is breast augmentation surgery?

Breast augmentation surgery is a common plastic surgery procedure. It is done to change the way a woman's breasts look.

This surgery increases the size or the fullness of the breasts using sacs filled with fluid or gel. These sacs are called breast implants.

Why might I need breast augmentation surgery?

You may choose to have breast augmentation if you are unhappy with how 1 or both of your breasts look. Some reasons why women choose to have this surgery include:

  • Their breasts have lost their size or fullness after childbirth
  • Weight loss has changed the size and fullness of their breasts
  • One breast is noticeably smaller than the other

What are the risks of breast augmentation surgery?

All surgeries have some risks. Some possible risks of breast augmentation surgery include:

  • A bad reaction to the medicines used to put you to sleep during surgery (anesthesia)
  • Bleeding
  • A collection of blood (hematoma) or fluid (seroma) building up under your skin. This may need to be drained with a needle.
  • Scar tissue
  • Infection
  • Changes in how your nipples or breasts feel
  • Pain that continues after healing
  • Blood clots in your legs that may travel to your heart or lungs

You may have other risks that are unique to you. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your surgeon before the procedure.

Some long-term things you should also consider:

  • You may not be happy with the final results and more surgery may be needed
  • Breast implants must be regularly checked for leaking, sometimes with an ultrasound or MRI
  • The implant may leak or burst (rupture)
  • A second surgery will be needed to remove or  at some point replace the implant. Implants are not guaranteed to last a lifetime.

It’s important to know that most health insurance plans will not cover cosmetic breast augmentation. They will also not cover the cost of any related problems.

There is no evidence that breast implants raise your risk for breast cancer. But you should tell your surgeon if you have a family history of the disease.

Having implants may make it harder to diagnose breast cancer. You can still get regular X-ray images of your breasts to screen for breast cancer (mammograms) if you have implants. But you may need to have more X-ray images taken around the implants to check the breast tissue.

Talk with your surgeon if you plan to get pregnant in the future. Implants may affect your ability to breastfeed. Pregnancy can also change the size and shape of your breasts.

How do I get ready for breast augmentation surgery?

Before surgery, you and your surgeon should discuss your breast implant options. Saline implants are filled with salt water. Silicone implants are filled with an elastic gel. Talk with your surgeon about which type is best for you.  

Before the procedure, your surgeon may want to take pictures of your breasts for comparison after surgery. You may also be asked to get a baseline mammogram. This can be compared with future mammograms done after your surgery.

  • Your surgeon will explain the procedure to you. Ask him or her any questions you have.
  • You will be asked to sign a consent form to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • Tell your surgeon if you are sensitive to or allergic to any medicines, latex, tape, and anesthesia medicines (local and general).
  • You will be asked to not eat or drink anything (to fast) for a certain period of time before surgery. This often means no food or drink after midnight.
  • Tell your surgeon if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • If you are a smoker, you should stop smoking at least 6 weeks before surgery.
  • Tell your surgeon if you have a history of bleeding disorders. Let him or her know if you are taking any blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants), aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medicines that affect blood clotting. You may need to stop taking these medicines before the procedure.
  • Tell your surgeon about all the medicines you take. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription medicines. It also includes vitamins, herbs, and other supplements.
  • If you may go home on the same day as surgery, make sure you have someone to drive you home.

Your health care provider may have other instructions for you based on your medical condition.

What happens during breast augmentation surgery?

Breast augmentation surgery may be done at a hospital or in an outpatient facility. It can be done using medicines to put you into a deep sleep (under general anesthesia). Or it may be done by numbing the area (using local anesthesia) and giving you medicine by IV (intravenously) to make you sleepy (IV sedation).

Many women can go home on the day of surgery.

Generally, breast augmentation surgery follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, or other objects that might get in the way during the procedure.
  2. You will be asked to remove your clothing and will be given a gown to wear.
  3. An intravenous (IV) line will be started in your arm or hand.
  4. You will be placed on your back on the operating table.
  5. Breast augmentation surgery may be done under local anesthesia. You will not feel the area to be operated on. You will get medicine in your IV before the procedure to help you relax. But you will likely stay awake, but feel sleepy, during the procedure.
  6. Under local anesthesia, you will get oxygen through a tube that fits in your nose.
  7. Breast augmentation surgery may also be done under general anesthesia. You will be asleep. Once you are asleep, your surgeon will put a breathing tube through your throat into your lungs. You will be connected to a ventilator. It will breathe for you during the surgery.
  8. The skin over the surgical site will be cleaned with a sterile (antiseptic) solution.
  9. One or more cuts (incisions) will be made. The incisions will be made in areas that will not be easily seen after surgery. This may be under your breast, under your arm, or around your nipple.
  10. The implant will be inserted through the incision. It may be slid under your pectoral chest muscle. Or it may be placed directly under your breast tissue. Your surgeon will decide where to create the pocket for the implant based on your body and what you would prefer.
  11. The incision will be closed using stitches, skin adhesive, or surgical tape.
  12. In some cases a drainage tube may be placed in the surgical area to keep fluid from collecting there while you are healing.

What happens after breast augmentation surgery?

You will be taken from the operating room to a recovery area. You will be watched until you have recovered from the anesthesia. You may have a bulky dressing over your breasts. Or you may be wearing a surgical bra.

Once you are alert and can take fluids well by mouth, your IV will be removed. It is important to get up and start walking as soon as possible. This can help keep blood clots from forming in your legs.

Once you get home, it’s important to follow all your surgeon's instructions and keep all your follow-up appointments.

You should be able to go back to a normal diet as tolerated. Follow your surgeon’s instructions for taking any pain medicines or medicines that fight infections (antibiotics).

Your breasts may be bruised and swollen. They may not look like you thought they would. This will go away as you heal, and should be gone in about a month. The incision lines will also fade over time.

Your home care instructions may include:

  • You may have to take sponge baths for a few days. Your surgeon may let you take a shower after about 5 days. Ask your surgeon when you can safely have a tub bath.
  • During the first few days after surgery, you can expect to feel sore. This is especially true if the implants were placed under your chest muscles. Don’t lift, pull, or push anything until your surgeon says it’s safe.
  • If the drain will be left in, you’ll be told how to take care of it at home.
  • Dressings and drains may be removed by your surgeon within a few days. You may be given a special support bra to wear after the dressings are removed. Stitches or adhesive tapes may be removed in about a week.
  • You will slowly be able to go back to your normal activities in a few days. You may need to wait a few weeks before returning to physical activities. Ask your surgeon when it is safe to return to work or go back to specific activities.

Call your surgeon if you have any of the following:

  • More pain or pain that is not relieved by prescribed pain medication
  • Any drainage, bleeding, redness, or swelling around your incision areas
  • Fever
  • Leg pain or leg swelling
  • Trouble breathing, chest pain, or heart palpitations

Your surgeon may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2016
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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