‘Breast implants made me sick’: one Aussie mum’s brave journey

Mother-of-two Syndi Carrick-Ryan shares her battle with breast implant illness in a bid to raise awareness about the dangers of the condition.

Syndi Carrick-Ryan was 23 and “riddled with insecurities” when she decided to get breast implants.

Diagnosed with tuberous breasts, or breast hypoplasia – a congenital condition restricting breast growth – Syndi says like most women, she had spent a lifetime comparing herself to others.

“Being in high school change rooms, seeing my girlfriends’ breasts grow while mine didn’t … navigating those teen years was really difficult,” Syndi says.

Syndi’s doctor told her she had hernias in both breasts which, once removed, would leave her with just nipples.

“Or, I could get implants – I chose the implants,” she says.

Syndi Lee

What is breast implant illness?

Fifteen months ago, Syndi began to experience debilitating chronic fatigue, severe digestive issues, weight loss, compromised immunity, agonising joint pain and hair loss.

“It’s been a rapid decline ever since; I spend whole days in bed where I can’t talk, I can’t walk, all I can do is cry,” Syndi says.

“The life I had and the person I was is gone – I’m not the happy, vibrant person I once was.”

The 39-year-old is among a growing number of women suffering from breast implant illness (BII) – a collection of symptoms in people with breast implants with no known cause.

While there is no official medical diagnosis for breast implant illness, doctors may use the term after other conditions have been ruled out.

Breast implant removal on the rise

Syndi will undergo explant surgery, and says she has come to terms with life without breasts.

“This experience has given me a deeper self-awareness,” Syndi says.

“My intention is to heal my body – it doesn’t matter what I look like because I’m a good person and I love myself.”

According to Monash University academic lead and chair of the Australian Breast Device Registry Professor Susannah Ahern, explant surgery is on the rise.

“During the past six years, there has been a reduction in the number of breast implants being inserted, and an increase in the number being revised or removed,” Prof Ahern says.

Research into breast implant illness

Syndi says she’s proud to be part of Australia’s first study into BII, which she hopes will help establish an official diagnosis.

“We’re not taken seriously by the medical profession, and it’s time for change,” she says.

Macquarie University study lead Professor Anand Deva says they are tracking symptoms in 308 women undergoing explant surgery – 234 with BII and the rest a non-symptomatic control group.

The study has shown the most common BII symptoms are brain fog, anxiety, headaches, muscle pain and chronic fatigue.

“These women are sick, they are suffering, but they are often dismissed and told it’s all in their heads,” Prof Deva says.

So far, 158 women have completed removal.

“At three to six months after removal, 80 per cent of women reported the number of symptoms had reduced from 12 to three, with severity dropping from 4.5 out of 5 to 1 (out of 5) for remaining symptoms,” Prof Deva says.

The findings are in line with results from an American study, but Prof Deva urges caution.

“Our results do reveal a significant reduction in symptoms after removal, but it’s complicated,” he says.

Prof Deva says they will track participants for 12 to 24 months to see if the improvements are maintained, and test the removed implants in a bid to find possible causes.

Written by Dimity Barber.