The waterfall effect in breast augmentation
The ‘waterfall effect’ is a descriptive term to indicate a sliding ptosis of parenchymal breast tissue over a fixed or encapsulated implant. It occurs more frequently than surgeons anticipate and especially over the longer term after augmentation. Certain breast implants are more prone to contribute to this problem as are implants placed in submuscular pockets that ride high, especially in women with anatomical musculoskeletal variance or asymmetry. This article describes the aetiology of sliding ptosis in more detail, the relevant anatomy and the surgical correction. Understanding the problem enables the surgeon to plan the appropriate procedure and obtain proper informed consent. It is possible that a two stage procedure is necessary should the upper pole of breast require a debulk, either early (3 to 12 months) or later as the breast may slide with ageing of the tissues. The waterfall effect of breast parenchyma over implants is only apparent when the upper torso of the woman is undressed and she is in an erect posture. A significant number of women are happy with this situation and therefore no further action is required. Those that want an improved appearance in these circumstances can try autologous fat transfer to rebulk the surrounding tissues but generally the most likely solution involves a mastopexy with or without implant exchange. The results are highly rewarding but the scars are the legacy. Mastopexy augmentation is a difficult procedure and should only be performed by experienced surgeons. Many surgeons prefer a two stage approach with either an implant based augmentation first to limit scars and see if the patient is happy with the outcome or a first stage mastopexy to decide whether implants or fat graft are actually required as a secondary procedure.