It was almost ten years ago that researchers began to warn against the use of metal-on-metal hip implants, claiming that the devices could potentially shed tiny pieces of metallic debris into the blood stream, posing a serious health risk to patients. Today, these metal-on-metal hips are the subject of one of the country’s largest medical device failures, fueling a public health problem that continues to plague both doctors and patients. In fact, within the first six months of this year alone, the FDA received more than 5,000 reports of problems associated with all-metal hip implants.
A recent article in the New York Times shared the story of a surgical procedure completed by Dr. Young-Min Kwon, an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, in which the doctor removed a failed artificial hip from a 53-year-old patient, discovering what he described as a “biological dead zone.” According to Dr. Kwon, the damage to the patient’s tissue was far greater than tests had previously indicated and could be permanent. Matted strands of the patient’s tissue had become stained gray and black, and a large strip of the muscle near the hip could no longer contract.
It is difficult for doctors to properly diagnose the problems associated with all-metal hips and doing so often requires the knowledge of a specialist. Researchers have only recently discovered that scans need to be run in a very specific way in order to fully detect the full extent of metal-hip-related damage. Unfortunately, by the time patients realize they need a specialist, lasting damage may have already taken place.
Recent studies have revealed that all-metal hips are failing at three times the rate of hips made of metal-and-plastic parts, which can last up to 15 years or more.