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Breast Sensitivity: A Side-Effect of Breast Augmentation?

It comes as no surprise to most people that a common side-effect of breast surgery of any kind is numbness. While usually temporary, in rare cases it’s permanent and doesn’t seem surprising considering the nature of surgery. What does, however, surprise people is the realization that their breasts are actually more sensitive after breast augmentation surgery than before.

What Factors Influence a Change in Breast Sensitivity?

Sensitivity can change after surgery as a result of changing breast size.  Surgeons take special care to protect nerves during surgery but sometimes nerve paths get affected.  There are techniques that don’t cut the nerves connecting to the nipple and this methodology is less likely to affect breast sensitivity, one way or another.

During breast reduction surgery, certain methodologies do not compromise breast tissue and preserve normal sensitivity. During breast augmentation surgery, the process is a little different. Doctors can identify the fourth intercostal nerve branch. This nerve branch extends to the nipple and your breasts normal sensitivity can be preserved by your surgeon avoiding interference with it. A very large implant, however, may stretch the nerve supply and affect the sensitivity of the nipple and the breast tissue surrounding it.  So much of whether or not breast sensitivity is affected depends heavily on the experience and skill of your surgeon. Always make sure you’re using a board certified plastic surgeon. Other factors for breast sensitivity depend upon the reasons behind breast augmentation and what methods are needed to produce the desired effect.

How Do Surgeons Determine Normal vs Not Normal Sensitivity?

In the interest of improving techniques and the practical needs of aspiring to ever greater skills, doctors often test for sensitivity before and after surgery. The method of testing usually involves a feather or cotton ball and, in some cases, an energy-based stimulation of the nipple. Unfortunately, scientifically calculating the results of nipple sensitive can be difficult. No two women experience sensation in their breasts the same way and some variation of sensitivity is entirely normal anyway.

What do the Studies Have to Say?

Taking a look at current study results may help to give you a better idea of what to expect after surgery.

  • Courtiss and Goldwyn Clinical Study: This study compares sensitivity before and after surgery and noted that small breasts were commonly more sensitive than large breasts.
  • Gonzalez et al Study: The study examined 84 reduction mammoplasty patients to find that well over 90 percent maintained nipple-areola sensitivity. The study also concluded that sensitivity retention was higher for reduction patients who had less than 550g of tissue excised. 
  • Tairych et al. Study: This study concluded that the normal denominators for breast sensitivity include that the skin in the superior quadrant is the most sensitive, the nipple the least sensitive and the areola’s sensitivity generally compared at mid-way between the two extremes.

The bottom line for sensitivity seems to depend more upon surgeon skill and the woman’s original sensitivity than anything else. Obviously, if you’re having breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, you are not going to be able to look forward to having sensitivity restored to what it was pre-cancer.  However, if you’ve chosen a skilled, experienced surgeon and are able to choose the techniques developed to preserve sensitivity, chances are very good indeed that you will maintain previous sensitivity.  Less common, you may actually increase in sensitivity.  A wise way to avoid this complication is to select reasonable sized implants for your body.  Of course, the decision is entirely yours, even with very large implants many women do not suffer from sensitivity difficulties at all.  It is important to realize, though, that an increase in sensitivity may be pleasant but it could also be extremely unpleasant.

Still, even with the potential risk of losing or gaining sensitivity, breast augmentation surgery is still a wonderful thing and can still restore your confidence, self-image and help heal your emotional state.  It’s a particularly miraculous procedure for cancer survivors and other trauma victims.

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