More than 90 percent of patients undergoing hip replacement surgery have minimal to no complications, and of the complications that do arise, almost all can be successfully treated. The most common hip replacement complications are divided into two categories. The first group occurs shortly after the procedure and include clotting, infection, dislocation and problems with wound healing. The second group of complications occurs months to years after the surgery. Long-term complications include hip replacement system failure, debris generated during frictional wear of the artificial hip and toxicity related to wear of the metal components of some artificial hips.
Dislocation of the prosthetic joint is the most common hip replacement complication. This happens when the ball of the joint comes loose from the socket. During the recovery period, patients should follow instructions carefully to prevent placing the leg in positions that cause dislocation. A brace can help the joint stay in place. Repeated dislocations might require corrective surgery.
Blood clots are one of the common hip replacement complications. Clots forming in veins are a typical problem after a mobility-limiting surgery. Lack of movement or injury to the veins during the surgery increases the risk of clot formation. Medication can prevent clotting and is frequently prescribed during the recovery period.
Infections of the incision are another hip replacement problem. Although most infections can be prevented with the use of antibiotics, infection deep in the tissue surrounding the hip replacement device might require surgery. This is a rather rare complication after a hip replacement.
Hip replacement complications related to undergoing surgery also occur. Patients who have heart problems and chronic conditions are at increased risk during general anesthesia. Pneumonia is one complication related to anesthesia.
Some problems occur long after the hip replacement surgery. Failure of the prosthetic joint is a long-term hip replacement complication requiring a second surgery. When the hip replacement system wears out prematurely, when it breaks or when the socket comes loose from the hipbone, an additional surgery is needed to fix or replace the defective prosthesis. Premature failure is a rare but serious complication.
Metal-on metal hip replacement systems might create metallic debris during frictional wear. Systems using polyethylene can also generate debris. These particles cause inflammation and other problems. Some medical professionals are concerned about the buildup of metal ions in the body caused by long-term wear of metal-on-metal systems.
Many hip replacement complications can be prevented by carefully following the doctor’s post-operative instructions. Patients should take all medications as prescribed, avoid high-impact sports and work closely with the physical therapist. If there are any unexpected problems, the patient should tell his or her doctor immediately. Severe pain, fever, shortness of breath, nausea and problems around the incision indicate complications that should not be neglected.
Maintaining a healthy weight also helps prevent hip replacement complications. Obesity increases wear and tear on the hip replacement system. Staying within recommended weight guidelines will help extend the life of the artificial hip and speed recovery.