Patients undergoing a breast augmentation may select implants filled with saline or silicone. Saline breast implants consist of a sterile saltwater solution filling within a silicone outer shell. Saline implants are FDA approved for women over the age of 18.
When performing a saline implant augmentation, the surgeon inserts a deflated implant and then pumps the saline solution into the implant through a small valve located at the base of the implant. The inflation valve seals automatically when the surgeon withdraws the connecting tube from the implant.
Saline breast implants are, on average, cheaper than silicone implants. They grew in popularity when the FDA banned silicone implants from 1992-2006. But since then the use of saline implants has declined, and silicone implants are now used in about 70 percent of breast augmentations. A thorough discussion between surgeon and patient will determine the best implant material for the patient.
Risks and considerations
If a saline implant valve is damaged, such as in a mammogram or an accident, leakage of the saline can occur. The body will safely absorb the filling.
Recognizing a ruptured saline implant is simple because the breast will deflate and distort in shape. Surgery is likely required to retrieve the silicone shell, at which time a new implant can be inserted.
Capsular contracture is the most common risk of saline or silicone implants. This is internal scarring around the implant that constricts the implant and can result in pain. Studies show that saline implants present significantly less risk of contracture than silicone implants.