In recent months, evidence has arisen – both here in America and from abroad – about complications linked to metal-on-metal hip replacement implants manufactured by DePuy Orthopedics, leading to a DePuy hip implant recall. A lesser number of similar implants made by the Zimmer Holdings company have also been implicated. The implants have been widely used for years to replace hipbones and tissues damaged by the ravages of time, trauma and arthritis. An estimated 80,000 metal-on-metal implants are surgically implanted each year, roughly one-third of the quarter million hip replacements that happen in the U.S. annually.

The DePuy implants are a distinct type of medical device, characterized for only being fashioned from copper, chrome alloys, chromium or cobalt and contain no rubber, silicone or non-metal components. They are, literally, metal on metal. The most common of these is the articular surface replacement, more commonly known as the ASR. These are used in both hip replacement and hip resurfacing.

Data from a recent study performed by DePuy itself shows that as many as 12 percent – one in eight – of patients who received one of these ASR implants through a replacement or resurfacing required corrective surgery less than five years after their initial surgery due to a failure of the component device. This is much sooner than the average follow-up procedure, which occurs roughly 15 to 20 years after implantation.

The problem with more frequent revisionary surgery is that every surgery has risks, and every additional surgery involving the hip joint exponentially increases the chances of serious complications like blood clots, bone loss, nerve damage or infection. Of course, there is also the associated pain, rehabilitation time, and expense.

Why Have the Devices Been Recalled?

The DePuy and Zimmer ASR devices have only recently been taken off the market, though complaints about these devices have surfaced for years. In early 2010, DePuy reported that it would phase out these implants because not enough of the devices were selling to justify the costs of manufacture. Consumer watchdog groups and medical professionals, however, feel that DePuy’s announcement was motivated by its own misgivings about the problems with the device.

The most common complication associated with these particular ASR implants is something called metal hypersensitivity. Surface sensitivity to metals is relatively common – an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the population has some form of allergic reaction to metal, from hives, redness and itching to eczema in the affected area.

The metal sensitivity experienced by hip replacement patients cannot be treated by an analgesic cream or a topical antihistamine. The problem occurs when metal-on-metal ASR devices are either installed incorrectly or they fail altogether-causing the metal surfaces to scrape together with more friction than normal, releasing microscopic particles of metallic debris into nearby tissue.

A buildup of this metal can cause inflammation, pain in the groin region, bone loss, systemic immunological responses and tissue death. These serious complications often require the revisionary surgery referenced above to correct tissue problems or even swap out the faulty joint for a new one. That is why medical professionals have recommended – in a recent edition of The Journal of Arthroplasty (a trade journal authored by and disseminated to orthopedic surgeons around the country) – that physicians only use these particular ASR devices once they have carefully considered the possible benefits and risks to the patient.

Is Your Artificial Hip Causing You Pain?

If you or a loved one has undergone a hip replacement or resurfacing in recent years and is suffering from persistent pain, swelling, joint redness or other complications, visit your orthopedist immediately. If your hip implant is a DePuy or Zimmer ASR device, contact a personal injury attorney once your medical concerns have been addressed.

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