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 (15)

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

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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

Death Rare after Breast Reduction by Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

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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 59 reviews

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

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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.


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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 76 reviews

Breast augmentation

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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

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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

Death after cosmetic surgery extremely rare

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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 22 reviews

Total IV anesthetic eliminates the risk of malignant hyperthermia.

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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

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

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The unfortunate young lady who died had a complication of anesthesia and her genetic make up not from the breast implant. It was a complication by being placed under general anesthesia. Just to put a perspective on the situation. 

Augmentation mammoplasty complicaions

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In over 30 years of being a plastic surgeon ,and having done nearly a thousand of breast enhancement , I personally ,am not aware nor have I heard a death due to or as a result of complications of augmentation mammoplasty. Of course any surgery has some risks, however if it is done by a board certified plastic surgeon in a safe & controlled environment the chance of dying as a result of undergoing augmentation mammoplasty is hunred times less than getting killed in an auto accident. You should not worry about this extremely low risk ,if you are considering to have an augmentation mammoplasty.

Fereydoon S. Mahjouri, MD
Minneapolis Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 13 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.