What's the Approximate Death Rate for Women from Complications After Breast Augmentation?

I read a report on MSNBC about a cheerleader who died after she had her breasts done. What are the fatal complications?

Doctor Answers 16

Any surgical procedure carries risk, but the risk can be managed

The only case I know about that sounds like the one you mentioned was from 2008 in Florida.  Although I could not find out much other than what was published at the time, reports when it happened were that she died from a condition known as "Malignant Hyperthermia".  That condition is hereditary, and reflects a severe sensitivity to anesthetics.

Malignant Hyperthermia is rare, and most surgeons (and surgery centers) have never seen it, although we all know about it.  It can occur with IV sedation, and even with local anesthesia when combined with anesthetic gasses.  In my mind, the most important thing you can do to mitigate this risk, as well as all of the other risks of anesthesia, is have your surgery at a surgery center where they are ready to deal with it if it occurs.  Aside from supportive care, the most important aspect of treatment is a large amount of a very expensive drug.  Unfortunately, the drug also has an expiration date, and needs to be replaced periodically, even if it is not used.  Therefore, not every surgery center may have it on the premises.

That is one of the reasons why a larger surgery center, especially one associated with a hospital, may be a good choice.  In addition to having all of the drugs that may be needed, and being under far higher scrutiny than any independent surgery center or doctor's office, a larger surgery center is likely to have more professionals available to help deal with an unexpected problem.

I would also say that I disagree with the notion that IV sedation is safer than general anesthesia.  Most anesthetic problems result from difficulty with the airway, and there are not as many choices in dealing with the airway, and not as much control of the airway, when a patient is not under general anesthesia.  For myself, when I was having my colonoscopy, I selected general anesthesia because I truly believe that it is safer than IV sedation, at least when conducted by a physician anesthesiologist in a busy, well run, and well stocked surgery center.

However, even if you and your anesthesiologist choose IV sedation, I would recommend that you use a physician anesthesiologist, who is there during the entire procedure, and who is ready to convert to general anesthesia if needed.  This is not the right place to cut corners to save a few dollars.


Scottsdale Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 13 reviews

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Death after cosmetic surgery extremely rare

The reason you heard about it on TV is because it is an attention-getting story:  that should tell you something.  There is almost always "more to the story" when you hear about problems like this--poor preparation, poor monitoring, an unusual patient reaction.  Michael Jackson died from propofol administration, but the drug is excellent and used hundreds of thousands of times monthly in the US--but used safely.

Find a reputable surgeon whom you trust.  That is your best insurance.

Mark B. Constantian, MD, FACS
Nashua Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 23 reviews

Fatal complications after breast augmentation?

Although I do not have a number for you in terms of risk, in the 26 years I have been in practice, I am not aware of any fatal complications after breast augmentation certainly in my own practice or that of any of my board-certified colleagues here in Seattle or for that matter of my colleagues across the country.  Certainly any surgery has risks.  If someone were to have a fatal complication after any cosmetic surgery, it would almost certainly be due to anesthesia problems such as the extremely rare malignant hyperthermia, an unrecognized underlying medical problem such as silent heart disease, or the very rare risk of pulmonary embolus which is a known risk with any surgical procedure, though exceeding rare after a relatively short procedure such as breast augmentation.  Many of the problems you read about with severe patient illness or death following cosmetic surgeries occurs with doctors who are not properly trained and not certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, in operating rooms without proper certification, and with anesthesia provided by individuals who are not properly trained to deal with problems that may arise.  I mention malignant hyperthermia as an anesthetic risk, but keep in mind that I have worked with a large number of anesthesiologists over the past 26 years who also work at our large and very busy local hospital, and so far not one of them has ever in their 20+ year practices seen a case of malignant hyperthermia, so although these cases may occur, and it is important that any surgical facility have the medications and protocols to deal with it, the risk is probably less than getting hit by lightening.

I recently researched the answer to this question....

One question that plastic surgeons are asked is  "What are my chances of dying from cosmetic surgery ?" In our day-to day practice as plastic surgeons, it is extremely rare to even hear about such a terrible complication either in the surrounding community or even in the nation as a whole. To put a number on the odds is difficult, but the numbers I have seen range from 1 in 57,000 to 1:200,00 surgeries. Lets take the highest odds of 1:57,000. Even that number seems quite high to me. However, using that number as a starting point, the risk of dying from pregnancy, that is, from the moment of conception to the moment that the child is delivered, also happens to also be around 1 in 57,000. You are 510 times more likely to die from being involved in an automobile accident, and 78 times more likely to die as a pedestrian struck by a moving vehicle than dying after cosmetic surgery.
What activities carry lower risk of dying than from elective cosmetic surgery? You are two times less likely to die from being bitten by a dog, and 3 times times less likely to die from a lightening strike than from cosmetic surgery.
The bottom line is that cosmetic surgery is ALWAYS offered to those in the lowest risk categories or the healthiest patients, that is the people who have no significant risk factors. This selection makes the chances of a patient having a life threatening complication after plastic surgery extremely rare. 
I hope that puts the odds in better perspective for you and many other people that may potentially read this because they have the same concern as you.  (SOURCE: National Safety Council:Injury Facts 2014)

Douglas Hendricks, MD
Newport Beach Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 8 reviews

Death Rare after Breast Reduction by Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

Unless you have serious medical problems and health issues going on unrelated to your breasts the risk of dying is extremely unusual to the point of being rare, about the same probability of dying from a car accident. Breast Reduction is an extremely safe operation when performed by a board certified plastic surgeon.

Larry S. Nichter, MD, MS, FACS
Orange County Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 62 reviews

What's the Approximate Death Rate for Women from Complications After Breast Augmentation?

Thank you for the question.
Some of the risks/potential complications associated with breast reduction surgery include:  infection, bleeding, seroma, hematoma, wound healing problems, abnormal scarring ( hypertrophic or keloid),  loss of sensation, inability to breast-feed, breast asymmetry, necrosis of tissue or skin,  unsatisfactory cosmetic results, unpredictability of exact cup size postoperatively,  recurrence of the breast hypertrophy, and the potential for further surgery.  other risks  related to surgery in general include deep venous thrombosis (clots),  pulmonary embolism, pneumonia  and even death.
Fortunately, the majority of patients who undergo this procedure by well experienced board-certified plastic surgeons and board certified anesthesiologists do very well and complications tend  to be relatively minor and treatable. The severe complications are rare.
I hope this helps.

Fatality

Death after cosmetic surgery is an extremely rare event - which is why you heard about this case in the news. Last year over 300,000 breast augmentations were performed and I am not aware of a single death. Fatal complications (such as malignant hyperthermia or pulmonary embolism) are possible with cosmetic surgery, but the risk is infinitesimally small. Minimize your risk by choosing a board certified plastic surgeon and anesthesiologist.

Grant Stevens, MD
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 77 reviews

Breast augmentation

This revolves around an anesthetic complication.  Please choose your team wisely.

In breast augmentation I have chosen to spend time reviewing photographs with patients to fully understand their expectation of size and shape. Many times this simply raises more questions. I will make measurements and use the implant guides to allow the patient to understand exactly the sizes that are reasonable for their body type and measurements.

Please find an experienced Board Certified Plastic Surgeon and member of the Aesthetic Society using the Smart Beauty Guide. These Plastic Surgeons can guide you on all aspects of facial surgery, breast augmentation and body procedures including tummy tucks or mommy makeovers!

Breast Enhancement Surgery

Any elective surgery has a death rate somewhere in the 1 in 10 000 area and that would be more from the anesthesia than any impact of the implants themselves

Total IV anesthetic eliminates the risk of malignant hyperthermia.

This patient died from malignant hyperthermia, a complication of a traditional general endotracheal anesthetic.  It may be avoided with a total intravenous anesthetic.  In my practice, this is the only way we perform cosmetic surgery, so that this rare but potentially fatal complication is eliminated as a risk.  It's a good question.  Medical personnel understand that a safe anesthetic is as important as choosing the right surgeon.  So you are well advised to go to a surgeon who uses total IV anesthesia.

Eric Swanson, MD
Kansas City Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 38 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.