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New problems with hip implants made from metal

(Sept. 22, 2011) Crippling injuries from shavings cut loose by worn-out metal-on-metal artificial hips may be in store for tens of thousands of U.S. patients, if the results of a new British study are any indication.

Importantly, the study by The National Joint Registry for England and Wales found that women stand a significantly greater risk of injury than men when the so-called metal-on-metal hips begin breaking down, typically due to excessive wear that causes bits of cobalt and chromium to migrate into surrounding tissues.

Artificial hips are expected to last at least 15 years, but some of these all-metal devices are giving out in a fraction of that time.

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during the first half of 2011 received more patient complaints about all-metal hips than in the last four years taken together.

Already, two leading makers of the device – DePuy and Johnson and Johnson – have recalled their metal hip devices. A third, Zimmer, has not yet taken such action. Litigation against them and others may eventually follow as affected patients seek relief for injuries.

Approximately one-quarter of a million Americans receive artificial hips each year – roughly a third of those are the all-metal type. To date, as many as 500,000 U.S. adults currently are believed to have received an all-metal artificial hip.

The National Joint Registry study is valuable because it sheds light on the problem of metal-on-metal artificial hips; however, the researchers looked only at the impact on British patients, not on patients in the U.S. Even so, as the Times noted, the “findings appear to bode ill for patients in the U.S.”

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