Many thousands of hip replacements are done each year in the UK with no complications whatsoever, giving a new lease of life to people who have been suffering the debilitating pain of hip arthritis. That doesn’t mean that hip replacement complications don’t happen and you should be aware of the risks before you decide to go ahead.
As with any major surgery involving a general anaesthetic, there are risks associated with the surgery itself. These include having a reaction to the anaesthetic, excessive bleeding, heart problems and blood clots. These problems only occur in a very small number of cases. Untoward intra-operative events were reported in 1.3% of procedures,
according to the National Joint Registry. The risk of these hip replacement complications can be reduced still further losing weight or cutting out smoking before surgery.
Potential hip replacement complications
While most operations are problem free, several common hip replacement complications may occur, including:
Wound infection – with modern sterile operating theatres, infections are rare. However, if the infection spreads to the prosthesis, it may require a second operation to remove and replace it. Private-sector hospitals have a significantly lower incidence of healthcare-acquired infections - 2.2%, compared to NHS hospitals - 6.5% (Health Protection Agency 2012).
Dislocation – these hip replacement complications are most likely to occur in the first few days. In many cases the joint can be re-aligned under anaesthetic, but you may require further surgery if it keeps happening.
Blood clots – there is a risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis whenever someone is immobile. Your hospital will provide special stockings, drugs and exercises to reduce the risk of these hip replacement complications.
Nerve damage – with any invasive procedure there is always the risk of nerve damage. Occasional hip replacement complications include numbness around the scar and damage to the sciatic nerve.
Later hip replacement complications
As well as hip replacement complications at the time of your operation, you may encounter problems many years later. Hip replacements are designed to last around twenty years, although the actual life may vary from ten to thirty years, depending on the material used and other factors such as your age and health.
Over time, there is a risk that the prosthesis may come loose in the shaft of the femur as the bones change with age. If this occurs, a second operation, a hip revision or revision hip replacement, will be needed to correct it.
There is also a risk of hip replacement complications due to the breakdown of the prosthetic parts themselves. As they age and begin to wear down, debris from the prosthetics can cause problems in the surrounding tissue. These hip replacement complications can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, but in severe cases revision surgery may be required.