Hip replacement infections
Hip replacement surgery has helped millions of people overcome painful arthritis, recover from hip fractures and improve their quality of life. However, hip implants do not come without risk or complications. For example, metal-on-metal hip implants can release metal particles that may weaken nearby bone and tissue, among other serious conditions such as metallosis from cobalt or chromium. Another major complication is infection after a hip replacement.
Infection is one of the most feared postoperative complications. In the most extreme cases, where the infection cannot be controlled, the entire hip and leg may have to be amputated. Thankfully this is very rare.
It’s important to note that we are not medical doctors and we are not trying to offer medical advice. This information is merely to provide some basic information about hip replacement infection. Relying on us for medical advice would be as foolish as relying on your doctor for legal advice.
Generally speaking, hip replacement infections are classified as either ‘superficial’ or ‘deep’. A superficial infection doesn't extend into the joint itself whilst a deep one does. Superficial infections are normally dealt with by antibiotics. However, it the deep infections that are a serious complication. These often result in the need for further surgery.
Bacteria can reach the surgical site during the operation or after the operation via the wound. Hopefully this is caught early. Patients should be on guard for a fever and pus or clear liquid oozing from the wound. Pain is another symptom, and in some cases the only symptom that will manifest itself. However hip pain is quite common in the first few months after surgery. Pain is not necessarily indicative of an infection.
If you are concerned that you have an infection, the doctor will likely order blood tests and possibly an aspiration. During an aspiration fluid is taken from the joint to determine if bacteria are present and what kind they are. With chronic infections there may be some destruction of the bone that will show up on X-rays. A final possibility is a nuclear scan where radioactive substance is injected into your arm and tracked.
While you may think that a deep infection can be cured by antibiotics, that is not usually the case. Surgery causes scar tissue to form. Scar tissue has fewer blood vessels. Because antibiotics can only reach the site of the infection via blood vessels they have difficulty reaching the infected area. It is also common for bacteria to form a ‘sticky’ coating which antibiotics are unable to penetrate.
This mean surgical treatment for deep infections is likely. If caught early, the bacteria won't have had time to do much damage to the surrounding bone and the site can be re-opened and cleaned out with a saline solution. A course of antibiotics will then be prescribed.
With a chronic infection the situation is much more serious. It is even possible that the hip will have to be removed. Surgeons may try to avoid this by cleaning the infection or opting for long term antibiotics to suppress the bacteria.
So how can you lessen the chance of infection? First, you should ask about preventative antibiotics given before surgery. These can lower the risk of serious infection. Second, you should ask questions of your doctor and the hospital. What are the post-op infection rates at that hospital? What tools or equipment will they use? For example, the attorneys at TheLawFirm.com are actively pursuing cases against Bair Hugger. This is a warming blanket that we believe can cause major infections. Don’t’ forget that infection control is the responsibility of both the surgeon and the nursing team and hospital management. Techniques developed over the last few decades have dramatically lowered the rate and risk of post operation infection.
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