Knee and hip replacements are two of the most commonly performed elective operations. For the majority of patients, joint replacement surgery relieves pain and helps them to live fuller, more active lives.
However, no surgical procedure is without risks. A small percentage of patients undergoing hip or knee replacement (roughly about 1 in 100) may develop an infection after the operation.
Joint replacement infections may occur in the wound or deep around the artificial implants. An infection may develop during your hospital stay or after you go home. Joint replacement infections can even occur years after your surgery.
The goal of this article is to help patients understand why joint replacements may become infected, what the signs and symptoms of infection are, how infections are treated, and how to prevent infections.
Any infection in your body can spread to your joint replacement.
Infections are caused by bacteria. Although bacteria are abundant in our gastrointestinal tract and on our skin, they are usually kept in check by our immune system. For example, if bacteria make it into our bloodstream, our immune system rapidly responds and kills the invading bacteria.
However, because joint replacements are made of metal and plastic, it is difficult for our immune system to attack bacteria that make it to these implants. If bacteria gain access to the implants, they may multiply and cause an infection.
Despite antibiotics and preventative treatments, patients with infected joint replacements often require surgery in order to cure the infection.
A total joint may become infected during the time of surgery, or anywhere from weeks to years after the surgery.
The most common ways bacteria enter the body include breaks or cuts in the skin, major dental procedures (such as a tooth extraction or root canal), and through wounds from other surgical procedures.
Some people are at a higher risk for developing infections after a joint replacement procedure. Factors that increase the risk for infection include:
- Immune deficiencies (such as HIV, lymphoma)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Peripheral vascular disease (poor circulation to the hands and feet)
- Immunosuppressive treatments (such as chemotherapy or corticosteroids)