You just had a breast augmentation or are on the path to getting one. You should know that infection, while rare, is most likely to occur within 20 days after surgery. Familiarize yourself with this risk and be on the watch for symptoms.
The sooner your infection is treated, the more likely your implant will be preserved.
Signs of post-surgical breast augmentation infection
You'll want to watch out for signs of infection within the first 20 days post-op. This is when two-thirds of post-surgical breast augmentation infections occur. Symptoms may present as:
- Fever of 101 or higher
- Discharge from the wound or surrounding site
Now, there have been cases of infection after breast augmentation in which there was NO fever, so don't rely on fever alone to indicate to you there's a problem.
Post-surgical breast augmentation infection timeline
2-3 days post-surgery -- If contamination took place after your breast augmentation, your infection would likely appear after just a few days.
5-7 days post-surgery -- If contamination took place prior to your breast augmentation or at the time of surgery, your infection would likely appear in about 5 to 7 days.
What to do if an infection develops after breast augmentation
If you have one or more of the symptoms listed above, fever or not, you need to contact your plastic surgeon immediately. Untreated infections that enter the breast pocket and the implant are harder to treat and complicate up to 2.5 percent of interventions.
How common is an infection after breast augmentation
First, relax. Infection is a rare, uncommon complication after breast augmentation surgery, ranging from 1 to 24 percent.
Most of the breast augmentation population will fall into the 1 percent range. But the rate of infection does move toward the higher range if:
- You've had radiation therapy and chemotherapy
- Your cancer treatment is close to the time of reconstruction with implantation
- Your surgeon doesn't follow proper surgical care
What causes infection after breast augmentation
Infection is a possible complication that can happen after any surgery, and breast augmentation is no different. Things that can lead to infection after breast augmentation include:
- Contaminated saline solution used to fill saline implants
- Bacteria entering the surgical site through the patient's skin
- Pre-existing infection in the patient before surgery
- The surgery itself
- The surgical environment
- Contaminated breast implant
We can't rule out incision type either.
The periareolar (nipple) incision has the highest rate of infection compared to other incision types like inframammary fold, transaxillary, and transumbilical. The areola incision comes near milk ducts that naturally harbor bacteria and, if cut, could contaminate your breast implant, leading to infection and resulting capsular contracture.
How post-surgical breast augmentation infections are treated
Thankfully, most infections are superficial and incision-related, so they can be treated with antibiotics over the course of 10 days.
If your infection does not respond to the antibiotics and has entered the pocket and infected your implant, it will have to be removed until the infection has completely cleared. Your surgeon will clean out your pocket during the removal procedure. He may even insert a temporary drain in your breast pocket. Either way, you'll have to take antibiotics.
The timeframe on re-implantation can range from a few weeks to several months, depending upon the severity of the infection. Most often a new implant can be reinserted after about four months.
Breast implant removal after breast augmentation infection
If your infected breast implant is removed, be aware that your breast asymmetry will be off and that your breast augmentation scar will be visible if you had the inframammary incision. Also, because your skin and muscles were stretched during the surgery, you may notice that your breast skin is looser and that your breast sags more or is less voluminous. This may make you mentally, emotionally, and physically uncomfortable.
How to prevent infections before and after breast augmentation
While there is no way to completely rid your risk of developing an infection before and after breast augmentation surgery, there are precautions you can take to reduce your risk.
Prevention tips before breast augmentation
- Get tested. You may have a pre-existing infection lurking that could infect your implant once it is placed. Make sure blood and urine tests are run before your surgery to ensure you are free of infection. You will need to have the infection treated before your breast implant procedure if one's present.
- Consider having your surgery performed in a surgery center or hospital. While many breast implant surgeries have been successfully performed in a plastic surgeon's office, surgery centers and hospitals are more apt to have a sterile environment.
- Pre-operative IV antibiotics. Administering IV antibiotics just before surgery is standard of care and helps to keep infection at bay. Check with your surgeon and anesthesiologist to ensure they follow this protocol.
Prevention tips during breast augmentation recovery
- Don't soak in the bathtub or any body of water. Until your incisions are completely closed, don't soak in water. Soaking in bodies of water would soften already fragile skin, making it possible for the incision to open and for dead skin cells and bacteria in the water to enter the incision and cause infection. Most surgeons recommend waiting 3 to 6 weeks before taking a dip, but be sure to get your surgeon's approval first.
- Avoid touching your incision. Bacteria from your hands could get on/in the incision and possibly cause an infection. If your surgeon asks you to apply any type of ointment, ask him/her if it would be okay to use a clean, sterile Q-Tip to do so.
- Apply lotions and creams with caution. Many women complain of their breasts itching after surgery. This is usually due to the skin stretching. Using a lotion or moisturizer can help relieve the itching, but if you get the product in the incision site, it can lead to infection. Therefore, apply lotion with caution, placing it a distance away from your incisions.
- Avoid deodorant if your incisions are in your armpit. Until your transaxillary incisions are completely closed and you've gotten approval from your surgeon, you have to avoid running deodorant over your incisions. Sorry, Ladies. Ask your surgeon if you can keep the steri-strips on your incisions until they fall off by themselves. This way you can still wear deodorant, but you won't run the risk of getting it on your incisions.
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