Fatigue. Brain fog. Fibromyalgia. Most people don’t associate these symptoms with having a medical device, but doctors and researchers have been finding a very strong link between the two. From patients who have breast implants to those with surgical mesh or knee replacements, countless people are struggling to battle autoimmune diseases resulting from their implants and yet have no idea why they’re feeling so sick.
Types of Autoimmune Diseases
An autoimmune disease is when the body attacks and damages its own tissues. An autoimmune disease can be associated with materials used in medical implants, devices, and adjuvants (substances added to vaccines such as aluminum and mercury). Here are just a few of the common types of autoimmune diseases that have been linked to medical implants:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – This condition can also be called systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Loss of memory or concentration, unexplained muscle or joint pain, headaches, and unrefreshing sleep are characteristics of CFS.
- Fibromyalgia – Pain, stiffness, tenderness, and soreness in the muscles at “trigger points”.
- Multiple sclerosis – A disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – An inflammatory condition that results in warm, swollen, and painful joints
- Systemic lupus – The body’s immune system starts to attack healthy tissue and may cause painful and swollen joints, fever, chest pain, hair loss, and more.
- Crohn’s Disease – This inflammatory bowel disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus. Signs and symptoms often include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and weight loss.
Types of Medical Implant Materials
Depending on the injury or treatment needed, there are many different types of materials used.
Biologic material is derived from living tissue, which can include intestines or skin that has been processed and disinfected for use as an implant device (for example, pig skin has been used instead of plastic mesh to reinforce hernias). The tissue is sourced from pigs, cows, sheep or humans. The most important specification for a biological material is that it’s biocompatible which means that it’s able to integrate into a host without causing an immune reaction. The pros are that they are more compatible with your body. The cons include that they can break down and degenerate.
Let’s say you had breast cancer and you wish to reconstruct your breast using your own tissue. A surgeon would take tissue from your stomach, thighs or buttocks to rebuild your breast instead of using saline or silicone which have been linked to cancers and other health conditions.
Obviously “synthetic” is something that doesn’t occur naturally and synthetic devices can include plastics, ceramics, porcelain, and other man-made materials. These are commonly used for dental implants, sutures, hernias, and more. Ceramics are even being used in joint replacements to “reinforce it and provide improvements to the bicompatibility, joint wear and mechanical properties,” explains researcher Ana Maria Arizmendi Morquecho. The pros are that synthetic materials can be cheaper, more readily accessible, and last longer than biologics. The cons are that they can cause autoimmune disorders in the body and many times the products aren’t fully tested before being put on the market. Transvaginal mesh (TVM) is one example that left countless women worldwide with multiple health complications that cannot be resolved. TVM is made out of a plastic called polypropylene that can erode in the body, migrate, and the sharp edges can sever tissues and organs.
Metals are commonly used in implants and titanium and metal alloys are often found in hip replacements and other similar implants. These products are many times used in combination with synthetic materials to mimic bone and tissue function. While they are long lasting, many people experience autoimmune disorders since the immune system may fight a foreign object in the body. Essure was a popular permanent birth control device that was designed to be implanted in the fallopian tubes. It was made out of 55% nickel. The problem is that 20% of women are allergic to nickel and had serious reactions due to this device.
How the Body May Respond to an Implant
Medical implants can be made from a variety of materials depending on the injury or issue it is supposed to address. However, each person can react differently to each material. Here are some recent studies linking autoimmune diseases with common medical implants:
In January 2019, a study was published in Clinical Rheumatology that stated that silicone may trigger immune responses that increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia and CFS. “Researchers studied 30 female patients, 47.9 years old on average, treated between 2000 and 2017, who received silicone breast implants before being diagnosed with a rheumatological condition,” explained Fibromyalgia News Today. “Overall, six patients were diagnosed with fibromyalgia, three with chronic fatigue syndrome, and 12 with depression; the remaining patients were diagnosed with other conditions, such as Sjögren’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Jan Willem Cohen Tervaert, director of the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Alberta, noticed that many of his patients were experiencing the same health problems after having vaginal mesh surgery. “In my practice, I studied 40 patients who had mesh implants and found that almost all of them had symptoms such as chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment known as ‘brain fog, muscle and joint pain ‘fibromyalgia, feverish temperature, and dry eyes and dry mouth,” Tervaert said. “Of those patients, 45% developed an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. And in the patients who had allergies before the implant, they were significantly worse after.”
Essure was introduced to the market in 2002 and was supposed to be a permanent, drug free birth control device for women. This coil-like implant was placed in the fallopian tubes so that eggs cannot descend from the ovaries into the uterus to be fertilized. However, Essure is made out of 55% nickel and 20% of women are allergic to this metal. According to the FDA, “From 2002 through 2017, the most frequently-reported patient problems were pain/abdominal pain (21,215), heavier menses/menstrual irregularities (9,846), headache (7,231), fatigue (5,842), and weight fluctuations (4,970). Most of the reports received listed multiple patient problems in each report. The most frequent device problems reported were patient-device incompatibility example, possible nickel allergy (4,481), migration of the device or device component (2,936), dislodged or dislocated device (1,356), device breakage (1,044), device operating differently than expected (947), device difficult to remove (331), device difficult to insert (317), and malposition of the device (279).”
What You Need to Know About Medical Implants
One of the biggest problems with medical implants is that patients don’t know that they’re linked to autoimmune disorders. After all, how can a hip replacement cause brain fog? However, there IS a strong connection between the two and patients need to know the symptoms to look for to determine if they’re having a negative reaction to their medical device. While the implant or device may not always be able to removed or replaced, having some answers may help you to address the symptoms more effectively.