Dr. House mystery points to defective artificial hip

This week’s episode of House M.D. focused on a mystery that ultimately pointed to blood poisoning caused by the patient’s artificial hip. While unusual, it is a condition that has been reported more recently due to a defect in a brand of artificial hip implant.

The patient, Arlene, played by guest star Candice Bergen, is a known hypochondriac at the hospital, but this time her symptoms may not be all in her mind. Arlene is experiencing atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the two small chambers in the upper part of the heart quiver instead of beat normally. Her other symptoms include rashes, stomach problems, and unexplained bouts of dizziness. She also has an artificial hip, which does not immediately set off any alarms with House or any of his medical team.

A host of medical conditions are tossed about – sexually transmitted disease, lead poisoning, leukemia, lupus, and even a condition resulting from heavy drinking. She is ultimately treated with antibiotics, but when that doesn’t work, and Arlene’s condition worsens (and the show nears the end of the hour), Dr. House makes a startling connection. Arlene’s artificial hip may be making her sick. He cuts into the patient’s hip and discovers the muscle tissue is covered with black spots, suggesting Arlene has developed metallosis, an immune system reaction to metal. Arlene’s hip implant is made of metal parts that when they rub together can cause small bits of metal to leach into the bloodstream, and lead to a variety of health problems.

This week’s House M.D. episode has a striking parallel to current health news. Late last summer, DePuy Orthopaedics issued a recall of its hip replacement implants because studies showed the implants were failing at a higher than expected rate. Problems reported by patients with the defective implants included loosening from the bone, fracturing of the bone, dislocation, and metallosis. Nearly 100,000 people are affected by the DePuy recall.