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Metal-on-Metal Hip Implants: Should You Be Worried?

By Ben Greenwood,

Dunkirk Lane, Hyde, Manchester, SK14 4NL.

19th October 2012

Over 300,000 hip replacements are carried out in the UK every year and the vast majority go without incident – a hip replacement is, after all, considered a ‘routine’ operation and is significantly less complicated than a lot of surgical procedures.

Metal-on-metal hip implants  – either used as ‘cap’ for the femoral bone in a hip resurfacing procedure or as a full implant in total hip replacement surgery – are one of the more prevalent hip prosthetics, accounting for around 40,000 of all hip replacements.

All hip resurfacing procedures make use of metal-on-metal hip implants; however, most total hip replacements will utilise ceramic or highly durable polythene prosthetics. Generally, you’ll be made aware of which you are receiving pre-surgery.

When successful, it’s estimated that metal-on-metal prosthetics can offer pain-free mobility for around 10 to 15 years. However, concerns have been raised over the past few years as to the safety of ‘metal-on-metal’ hip implants. Although designed with durability in mind, some metal-on-metal implants can fail and the friction between the metal can lead to metal debris breaking off and entering the bloodstream.

The cobalt and chromium particles produced by the wear and tear of a metal-on-metal joint can concentrate around the hip, causing serious damage to tissue and leading to serious pain and discomfort for a patient.

Should You Be Worried?

Perhaps the most notorious case of metal-on-metal hip implants failing is the DePuy ASL and ASL XL models, both of which have since been recalled. These implants were particularly susceptible to wear and released dangerous levels of metal into the bloodstream. It’s estimated that around 10,000 patients in the UK were fitted with these products; worldwide, this figure is much higher.

Thousands of patients have had to have follow up surgery to replace these particular implants, not to mention the pain and suffering they had to endure when the implant failed. Although recalled, there are still patients fitted with the implants. It has been recommended that these patients are monitored every year for the rest of their lives.

Beyond these particular products, however, there has been no solid evidence to suggest metal-on-metal implants are any more dangerous than other joint prosthetics. Caution should be advised, with regular monitoring carried out, but it remains that more people live comfortably after a metal-on-metal implant than suffer adverse effects.

What Should You Do If You’ve Been Affected

If you feel that are suffering from the adverse effects of a metal-on-metal hip joint, then the chances are you will require follow-up surgery to replace the prosthetic. Consult with your GP immediately; ignoring the problem will only make it worse.

In the case of DePuy implants, the company has covered the cost of consultations and follow-up surgery. However, it may be the case that you are also entitled compensation for the pain you suffered as a result of the initial implant, as well as any loss of earnings through time off work.

Once you have consulted with your doctor and had the issue resolved (your health should always come first), get in touch with a medical negligence solicitor to discuss your case. Thousands of people who have suffered as a result of orthopaedic medical negligence have successfully claimed for compensation, so don’t be afraid of pursuing your case or feel like chasing up a case is futile.