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September 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Will Katie Price’s Breast Implants Explode Underwater?

from the September, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Ah, those British gossip tabloids. How fun they are. In April, the Daily Star reported that celebrity Katie Price, the British version of Pamela Anderson, was warned her surgically-enhanced breasts could explode if she went diving. Price was on vacation at the Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheik and wanted to take a dive course but was told scare stories (we donít know by whom) about implants exploding underwater. The Daily Starís source said, ďGiven the risks, and how long she has spent perfecting her boobs, it is unlikely Katie will go ahead.Ē

So do breast implants (or testicular implants on men) change size or explode from pressure underwater? Do they affect buoyancy? What happens to them after a dive or on the outbound flight? Richard Vann, vice president of research at Divers Alert Network, led a study two decades ago to find out. He placed breast implants in the hyperbaric chamber at Duke University Medical Center. (The study did not simulate the implant in human tissue.) He tested three types - - silicone-filled, saline-filled and an equal mix of the two - - and simulated four different no-decompression depth/time profiles between 40 and 120 feet To simulate commercial air flight, the implants were subjected to 7,000 feet of altitude, a typical airline cabin pressure, then at 30,000 feet, as if cabin pressure were lost. To measure implantsí volume change at sea level, Vann placed them in water and measured changes hourly for eight hours by weighing the water displaced by bubbles. To measure volume changes at altitude, he immersed implants in a waterfilled container and measured the change in water level in a capillary tube.

Measuring implants at sea level after simulated dives, there was a small increase of one to four percent in implant volume in both saline and silicone gel implants, depending on depth and duration of the dive. Bubbles in saline implants coalesced into one large bubble, while between 12 and 50 flat bubbles formed in gel implants, the largest measuring only 2.5 centimeters in diameter. The least volume change occurred in the saline-filled implant, because nitrogen is less soluble in saline than silicone. The silicone-saline-filled type showed the greatest volume change. Altitude exposure at 7,000 feet increased the volume changes to as much as five percent, but that seems unlikely to cause distress for recreational divers during commercial air travel. At 30,000 feet, the increase in volume was four to twelve percent, still not very large. Thus, bubble formations leading to small volume increases donít seem likely to damage the implants or surrounding tissue. If gas bubbles do form in an implant, they resolve over time.

So Katie, your boob implants wonít bust if you go diving. But avoid BCs with constrictive chest straps because they can put undue pressure on the implant seams and increase the risk of rupture.

ďMammary Implants, Diving and Altitude Exposure,Ē by Richard R. Vann, Ronald Riefkohl, Gregory S. Georgiade and Nicholas S. Georgiade, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, February 1988.

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