Metal-on-Metal Hips Linked to Illness

Patients with metal-on-metal hips around the world have growing concerns about the problems associated with the all-metal devices. When first introduced to the market, metal hips were touted as being more durable and suitable for relatively younger aged or more active patients, with the promise of lasting 20 to 25 years, but many have failed prematurely.

In recent years, metal-on-metal hip implants have been used in about one-third of the approximate 250,000 hip replacements performed annually in this country. “The devices, whose ball-and-socket joints are made from metals like cobalt and chromium, became widely used in the belief that they would be more durable than previous types of implants.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that hundreds of Australians with metal hip implants are worried about their hips leaching cobalt and chromium particles into their bodies. Many patients report similar symptoms, including nausea, vertigo, headaches, heart problems and more. Some injured patients have joined a class-action lawsuit underway in Federal Court. The lawsuit has been filed against Johnson & Johnson over its DePuy ASR hip implant, which the company recalled in August 2010, due to higher than expected failure rate. Many other patients with other brands of all-metal hip implants have complained of the same issues, although they are not involved in this litigation.

The cause and the scope of the problem are not clear. But recent studies indicate that in some cases the devices can quickly begin to wear, generating high volumes of metallic debris that is absorbed into a patient’s body. That situation can touch off inflammatory reactions that cause pain in the groin, death of tissue in the hip joint and loss of surrounding bone.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the story of Di Harvey, a former nurse who was implanted with a Birmingham Hip Resurfacing system in 2003. In 2010, she went to see an orthopedic surgeon for back pain. She had been suffering from the pain for years; it had been attributed to a “pinched nerve”. The surgeon, however, told Harvey her pain was transferred pain from her hip implant. The metal hip failed and needed to be replaced through a “revision” surgery. Harvey was implanted with a ceramic device but her problems continued..Her right hip caused her to favor the left leg, causing knee pain; she later received a knee implant as well.

Harvey’s following symptoms were worrisome. “I developed a hacking cough,” she said. “I got very sick, began vomiting bile every day. I had heart palpitations. I felt if I over-exerted myself I would drop dead.” She researched her symptoms further and learned about the growing concern of metal poisoning with metal hips. In June 2011, the Medical Journal of Australia published an article stating that it was an “emerging clinical problem”. The authors wrote that the metal devices released “a variety of metal ions into local tissue and [into] the general circulation…” and higher levels of cobalt were linked to hand tremors, depression, vertigo, hearing loss and heart problems.

“I have got rid of my BHR hip, but I have been told that once the cobalt and chromium get into your body the damage has been done.” Harvey says.