Total knee and hip replacement are wonderful restorative procedures - except when they aren’t. While it is well known that pulmonary embolism, heart attack, stroke and death occur at surgery in a small percentage of patients, it is less well known that infection of a total joint replacement can equally be, or more, devastating. Infections occur in about 2% of patients. At a recent symposium of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, new research showed that THE FIVE YEAR MORTALITY RATE OF PATIENTS WITH AN INFECTED TOTAL JOINT REPLACEMENT IS HIGHER THAN FOUR OF THE FIVE MOST COMMON CANCERS. Repeat surgery and intensive antibiotic therapy is required in nearly all cases, but resistant antibiotics prevent eradication of the infection in some. And the physical and emotional stress of the treatment over a period of years takes a heavy toll on the patient.
The take home message is that joint replacement can have devastating complications and should not be undertaken lightly. It is one of the reasons my practice is devoted to joint preservation and why I chose to stop performing joint replacement surgery years ago. Joint replacement can result in wonderful life changing results for the better, but should only be undertaken if other alternatives have been exhausted.