A hip replacement involves removing a worn or damaged hip joint and inserting an artificial version in its place. Although hip replacement problems are not frequently experienced, there are a number of possible complications following hip replacement surgery. Immediately after the operation, the most common complication is probably the development of blood clots in the veins of the legs. Over time, perhaps the most frequent problem is loosening of the artificial joint, or prosthesis. Other potential hip replacement complications include infection, bone fractures, unequal leg lengths, and the prosthesis becoming dislocated, worn or broken.
Some hip replacement problems, such as blood clots and infection, are complications which have a risk of occurring after most operations. While every precaution is generally taken by surgeons to avoid the risk of known complications, in a minority of cases they can still arise. They are often readily treatable and do not necessarily indicate a bad hip replacement procedure. In spite of filtering the air to remove bacteria from the operating theater and the use of sterile suits for the surgical team, infections occasionally occur. Infections may develop more readily in people with conditions such as diabetes, and are usually successfully treated with antibiotic drugs.
When a blood clot develops in a leg vein, this is known as deep vein thrombosis. In order to prevent blood clots from forming, special exercises and elastic stockings may be used following surgery, together with anticoagulant drugs to lower the risk of clotting. Although clots are not dangerous while in the legs, there is a risk that a large one could break off and travel to an artery in the lungs. This could be fatal if breathing becomes severely restricted as a result.
Loosening of the artificial hip joint is probably the most common of all hip replacement problems overall. It may be caused by the bone immediately surrounding the prosthesis becoming thin. Alternatively, the part of the prosthesis which is fixed into the shaft of the thigh bone may work loose. People who have softer bones due to conditions such as osteoporosis are more at risk of these types of hip replacement problems. Being overweight or too active could also lead to similar joint loosening.
Certain prosthesis designs, and those which do not require cement, may be more likely to remain fixed in position. Some designs are found to be unsuccessful over the course of a number of years, and manufacturers of artificial hip joints have been known to announce a hip replacement recall in cases where the failure rate for a product has proved unacceptably high. While hip replacement problems such as chronic pain and swelling may be caused by a faulty design, hip replacement dislocation, where the two parts of the joint become disconnected, is more likely to happen when the joint is moved into certain positions. The patient can learn to avoid moving the hip too far out of line, and it may be possible for the joint to be moved back into place manually, but recurrent dislocations may require further surgery.