Joint replacements are extremely reliable procedures, especially when conducted by experienced professionals like those at Greater Dallas Orthopaedics. However, roughly 1% of patients who receive a prosthetic joint replacement do develop infections following their operation.
In this blog, we’ll be discussing what typically causes prosthetic joint infections, what the symptoms are, and some of the most common treatment methods. As always, this content is no substitute for actual medical advice and if you or a loved one fear they have a prosthetic joint infection, you should seek medical advice promptly.
Like all infections, prosthetic joint infections are caused by bacteria. Whether made of metal or plastic, prosthetic joints can present your immune system with outside bacteria it has difficulty attacking. Because these infections are difficult for your immune system to handle, antibiotics and preventative treatments may not always be effective.
While most prosthetic joint infections happen during surgery, it’s possible (though less likely) for a prosthetic joint to become infected a year or more after surgery took place.
Infection-causing bacteria can enter the body through any number of ways, from simple cuts & scrapes, to wounds created during a medical procedure. Because the entry point can be so broad, it’s more important to focus on what factors make an individual much more likely to develop an infection following a joint replacement.
Ailments like immune deficiencies, diabetes, and poor circulation can make someone more susceptible to infection, as well as lifestyle conditions like obesity, and treatments like chemotherapy.
The vast majority of prosthetic joint infection symptoms will occur within or near the joint, however, there are some exceptions. Joint-related symptoms include joint pain, joint stiffness, swelling near the joint, inflammation near the surgery wound, and drainage near the surgery wound.
Symptoms that occur away from the joint include irregular temperature (fever, night sweats, chills, etc.) and general fatigue. Like most infections, early diagnosis is critical, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms and have recently received a prosthetic joint replacement, we encourage you to seek medical attention.
Treatment for an infected prosthetic joint can fall into two categories: surgical and non-surgical. Within the category of surgical treatment, there are many different approaches that can be taken depending on the spread and severity of the infection. Before we dive into that topic, let’s discuss non-surgical treatment.
Non-surgical treatment is typically employed for the least severe prosthetic joint infections. For an infection to not require surgery, it must not have spread too deeply into the joint itself. Instead, it primarily affects the skin and soft tissue near the joint. In these instances, antibiotics are prescribed and the success rate is very high.
Surgical treatment typically falls into one of two treatments: debridement or staged surgery. The key difference is whether or not the prosthetic joint must be removed and, potentially, replaced.
Debridement is usually employed when the infection has reached the joint itself but is caught within a few days of its onset. The debridement procedure involves the removal of infected soft tissue, the cleaning of the prosthetic joint, and the replacement of liners & spacers. Following the procedure, antibiotics are prescribed for a doctor-determined period of time.
For more severe infections that warrant the replacement of the joint, staged surgery is conducted. It’s called staged surgery because treatment is conducted in two steps. First, the infected tissue and the prosthetic joint itself are removed. An antibiotic spacer is placed into the joint and antibiotics are prescribed for a set period of time. Once the infection is properly treated, a revision joint replacement is conducted. During this stage, a new prosthetic joint is used. The procedure & recovery are very similar to that of an initial joint replacement.
While joint replacements are a remarkably successful procedure, it’s important for those receiving a prosthetic joint to understand that the possibility of infection does exist. At Greater Dallas Orthopaedics, we specialize not only in initial joint replacements but are also a regional-leader in revision joint replacements. If you or a loved one fears they may be experiencing a prosthetic joint infection, we encourage you to reach out to the team at Greater Dallas Orthopaedics today! As we said, the key to treatment is always an early diagnosis.