Eighteen months after receiving an all-metal artificial hip, Sally Gration’s pain started. Soon after, she began walking with a limp. But it wasn’t until five years after her surgery that doctors tested her blood and confirmed that the problems she was experiencing with her hip implant were because the metal device was corroding inside her body.
“I discovered that I had high levels of chromium cobalt in my body and the implant needed to come out,” Sally told The Telegraph. “But when they removed it, they couldn’t put a new one in because it had affected my body so badly… I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to walk again.”
Sally is one of thousands of people who received metal-on-metal hip implants and have experienced problems beyond what anyone could have imagined. Traditional hip implants are made with ceramic or plastic parts. The metal-on-metal were designed to be more durable.
What medical device companies didn’t expect was that the metal could corrode over time, accelerating the failure of the artificial hips and, in many cases, leaching heavy metals into the bloodstream. This type of blood poisoning, known as metallosis, has caused some people to experience headaches, fatigues and rashes. The long-term effects of metallosis are unknown but some researchers say the metal ions can damage DNA which may lead to serious health problems including cancer.
In 2010, just as an unusually high number of all-metal hip implant failures were being reported to the British Joint Registry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), DePuy Orthopaedics, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, issued a recall of one of its metal-on-metal artificial hips. Since then, the FDA has ordered all other manufacturers of all-metal hip implants to collect data on adverse events in patients who have received the metal hips, with emphasis on blood poisoning.
Earlier this year, both the British Hip Society and the FDA advised that stemmed, large diameter, metal-on-metal hip implants should no longer be used because of the problems associated with the devices.