In August 2010, people who had received metal-on-metal artificial hips began to be concerned about their implanted devices. DePuy Orthopaedics, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, had announced a recall of its ASR LX Acetabular hip system due to a higher than normal failure rate. The recall was expected to affect about 93,000 people. However, as time passed, it seems the recall was only the first indication of a much larger problem with metal-on-metal hip implants.
NBC Nightly News spotlighted this issue on Oct. 5, and anchor Brian Williams characterized the situation as “one of this nation’s largest medical device failures, ever.”
The FDA has received nearly 11,000 complaints associated with metal-on-metal hip implants between January and September 2011, NBC reports. This spring, after mounting reports of problems associated with metal-on-metal implants, the FDA announced a comprehensive review of all hip implant parts of this type. The FDA has asked 21 medical device manufacturers to examine the safety of this type of hip.
Metal-on-metal construction features a metal ball joint that fits into a metal socket. Earlier construction featured a combination of metal and plastic or ceramic parts. The new metal-on-metal devices were created based on a theory that they would be stronger and last longer. However, NBC News reports, there is a growing concern that these metal-on-metal devices are actually failing at higher rates than those of other construction.
The problem, said Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC News Chief Medical Editor, seems to be that when the metal ball and socket rub against each other during normal use, tiny metal particles can flake off, “potentially causing damage around the implant and in the joint.” Occasionally, Dr. Snyderman said, the metal particles may even enter the bloodstream.
Dr. Joshua Jacobs of Rush University Medical Center advised people who have metal-on-metal implants to speak to their doctor immediately if they get any symptoms around the hip, such as pain or swelling.
Ila Lewis, who had both hips replaced with metal-on-metal implants, told Dr. Snyderman that she expected her implants to last her 20 years. But within five years of her initial implant surgery, she had to have both of the hips replaced with non-metal components. She says she experienced a great deal of pain with her metal-on-metal implants, “much more painful than what sent me to have my hip done in the first place,” she told NBC.
Dr. Snyderman told NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams that the number of hip replacement surgeries is increasing for women in particular, as they are living longer and are more active in their senior years.