Like any surgery, hip and knee joint replacement carries certain life-threatening risks, such as infection, blood clots and complications from anesthesia. Other complications include nerve damage, dislocation or breakage after surgery, and wearing out or loosening of the joint over time. After hip replacement surgery, one leg may be shorter than the other.
Infection is an ongoing risk for people with joint replacements. Not only can it occur in the hospital, but it can happen years later if bacteria travel through the bloodstream to the replacement area.
In the rare case that an infection spreads to the new joint and does not clear up with antibiotic treatment, the joint must be replaced. This usually requires two surgeries--one to remove the infected joint and another surgery later to insert the new joint. Between surgeries, the infection is treated with antibiotics.
In 2001, the FDA approved a temporary artificial hip for people with hip joint infection. The temporary hip, called Prostalac, can be inserted and left in place for about three months after the infected hip is removed. It consists of a metal stem and ball that fits into the thighbone, a plastic cup that attaches to the hipbone, and a bone cement that contains antibiotics. The antibiotics in the cement, along with oral antibiotics taken by the patient, help to treat the infection. The temporary hip allows a person some movement while healing.
"All You Need to Know About Joint Surgery," © 2002, Arthritis Foundation