Victims of Failed Metal-on-Metal Hip Implants Often Struggle to Find Help

A growing number of patients are seeking to have faulty metal-on-metal hips implants removed and replaced, according to a report published by The New York Times over the weekend. Unfortunately, finding a doctor who knows how to diagnose and deal with a failed all-metal hip implant is often no easy task.

All-metal hip implants include <"">DePuy Orthopaedic’s ASR hip implant, which was recalled in August 2010 because of a higher-than-expected early failure rate. As we’ve reported previously, it is believed that metal-on-metal hip implants can shed dangerous amounts of cobalt and chromium through wear, leading to tissue damage, premature device failure, the need for revision surgery, and even long-term health problems. While this may cause some all-metal hip implant recipients to suffer pain, rashes, and inflammation, some suffer no symptoms at all.

Last month, an analysis of data from the National Joint Registry for England and Wales found that all-metal hips were failing early at three times the rate of those made from metal and plastic. As we’ve reported previously, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has also seen a spike in complaints about all-metal hips. Earlier this year, the agency said it had received around 5,000 adverse event reports related to all-metal hip replacements since January, more than it received in the previous four years combined. The majority involved the DePuy ASR hip implant, while other complaints named Zimmer’s Durom cup, and the all-metal version of DePuy’s Pinnacle implant. Most of the adverse event reports came from people who have undergone, or will require, revision surgery because of complications they suffered just a few years after receiving their all-metal implants.

Unfortunately, for people who experience all-metal hip implant failures, finding help isn’t easy. According to The New York Times, some patients say they have been bounced from doctor to doctor who did not have the knowledge or the tools to properly diagnose the problem. By the time they found a doctor with the expertise they need, long-lasting tissue damage has been done.

One patient, Robert Cartier, 53, told the Times he had seen seven doctors before finding one who was able to help. Diagnostic tests were of no use to Cartier, and according to the Times, doctors have only recently figured out that scans need to be run in a specific way to detect the damage caused by all-metal hip implants.

The orthopedics surgeon who finally helped Cartier, Dr. Young-Min Kwon of Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Times that when he performed Cartier’s revision surgery, the tissue surrounding his failed implant looked like a biological dead zone. Because the damage was more extensive than tests had indicated and might be permanent, Dr. Kwon said Cartier’s prognosis is “guarded.”

Sadly, Cartier’s case is hardly isolated. Dr. Kwon told the Times he and other surgeons are seeing growing numbers of patients with similar complications.

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