How can I Prevent Infection After Hip Replacement?

Anna B. Smith

Infection after hip replacement may be prevented by creating a sterile operating room that blocks the entry of most bacteria, discontinuing immuno-suppressing medications around the time of the surgery, and taking antibiotics in the future prior to any type of invasive medical procedure. Surgeons often use specially designed operating rooms for this type of procedure to greatly reduce the chance of infection to their patients. They also check all medications being taken to make sure that the immune system is at its strongest around the time of the replacement. Bacteria may enter the blood stream and attack the synthetic joint from any type of work performed on other parts of the body, such as the teeth, and patients may wish to take antibiotics before and after dental visits to prevent this from happening.

An X-ray of the pelvic area, showing a replacement hip.
An X-ray of the pelvic area, showing a replacement hip.

The occurrence of infection after hip replacement is rare, but can create serious consequences for affected individuals. The surgery involves placing an artificially created joint into the body, which presents a constant possible location for bacteria to live. The immune system can fight most infections by targeting them with antibodies through the blood stream. Bacteria can feed on the material in the artificial joint, however, and may not come in direct contact with the antibodies necessary to destroy it. Most instances of serious infection are treated by removing the artificial joint and replacing it with a new one.

A hip replacement may be necessary following a serious fall.
A hip replacement may be necessary following a serious fall.

During surgery, doctors can take special precautions to avoid a later infection after hip replacement surgery has been completed. The operating room will typically be fitted with special air filters that prevent most bacteria from entering the room. The surgeons and assisting staff may wear sterile clean suits and breathing masks, so that nothing harmful may be transmitted from their clothing or hands to the incision site. Strong antibiotics are often given intravenously before, during, and after surgery while the patient is recuperating in the hospital, to increase the body's ability to fight infection.

Individuals who are taking prescribed immuno-suppressing drugs may wish to consult their physicians and discontinue these medications around the time of their surgery. Immuno-suppressing drugs are medications which are designed to treat certain types of pain and other chronic conditions, and have a side effect of lowering the natural disease fighting abilities of the body's immune system. Anti-inflammatory arthritis steroid medications fall under this category. If the body's immune system is compromised, it may not be able to adequately fight off invading infection after hip replacement surgery.

Patients are still at risk of infection many years after surgery, and may have antibiotics prescribed by their doctors before any type of invasive medical procedure. Dental work, colonoscopies, and exploratory surgery are several types of invasive procedures that can increase the risk of infection after hip replacement. These procedures create the opportunity for bacteria to be introduced into the blood stream. The baceria can then be carried to the site of the joint replacement and live on the manufactured surface of the new hip. Many doctors prescribe general antibiotics to former hip replacement patients prior to undergoing any type of minor medical procedure to reduce their risk of coming in contact with such contaminants.

Most patients who undergo a hip replacement are between 50 and 80 years old.
Most patients who undergo a hip replacement are between 50 and 80 years old.

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Discussion Comments


So, should people with artificial joints be quicker to take antibiotics for systemic infections such as gastroenteritis related to traveling, just getting a bacterial respiratory

infection, or something like cellulitis related to a foreign object entering the body like a piece of glass or a wood sliver that becomes infected?

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