Hip Replacements Fail, Sometimes Without Symptoms

October 4th, 2011

Last year, DePuy Orthopaedics, a division of Johnson & Johnson, recalled two of their hip replacement systems due to a higher-than-usual failure rate, causing patients to have to have second surgeries to replace the replacement.

Then, in May 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered all producers of “metal-on-metal” hip replacements to study the implants to make sure patients remain as safe as possible. That means that DePuy may not be the only potentially dangerous brand of hip replacement. Other brands included in the FDA’s order are ZimmerStrykerBiomet, and Wright Medical.

Now, according to a new article in The New York Times, the problems reported to date may be just the tip of the injury iceberg. And many people who have hip replacements may not even be aware that their bodies are in the midst of developing serious, potentially permanent damage.


Hips are made of two parts: A round, concave socket on the lower part of the pelvis; and a ball-shaped protrusion of bone at the end of the femur (thigh bone) that fits perfectly into the socket. This ball-and-socket joint allows the leg to extend forward, backward, sideways, and around in a circle in fluid motion.

A hip replacement, therefore, also has two parts:  Ball and socket. The most common implants are made of metal and plastic, but some—such as those involved in the recall—are known as metal-on-metal, in which a metal ball rotates in a metal socket. According to The New York Times:

More than a decade ago, some researchers had warned that the hips shed tiny pieces of metallic debris that posed potential health threats to patients. But those warnings were not heeded, and now doctors and patients face a growing public health problem as one of the country’s biggest medical device failures unfolds.

The metallic debris triggers the body to release scavenger cells to try to get rid of the particles, but they end up only making the problem worse: A chemical reaction converts the metal particles into biologically active metallic ions. In some patients, this causes a cascade of problems in the body that can end up causing permanent muscle and tissue damage.


Metal-on-metal hip replacement devices don’t always cause health problems, and when they do, the path to diagnosis isn’t clear or straightforward. Some patients have severe symptoms that cause them to seek medical care, but sometimes people with severe damage don’t experience pain at all. Sometimes the metallic ions can be picked up in blood work, but sometimes standard test for the ions are negative even though they exist.

For example, Cyndi Lafuente, a senior adviser at the Internal Revenue Service, learned last year that the model of artificial hip she got in 2007 was being recalled by its manufacturer, the DePuy division of Johnson & Johnson, because of its high early failure rate. Ms. Lafuente said she contacted her surgeon, who ordered a blood test and diagnostic scans, which came back with normal results. Still concerned, she contacted a British researcher, Dr. David Langton, who had helped sound the alarm about the recalled model.

In January, she met again with her orthopedist, armed with information from that talk and other research. The physician suggested that they run an added test. It showed very high metal levels, she said.

Patients are being put in the position of having to take an active role in seeking answers about their metal-on-metal hip replacements. Those who don’t could be risking permanent damage.


If you already know that you received one of the recalled DePuy hip replacement systems or any metal-on-metal hip replacement, we recommend two things:

1. Schedule a follow-up appointment with your surgeon, even if you’re not currently having symptoms. It is possible that you could have early signs of failure before you recognize the pain. Your doctor will be able to evaluate how your hip is functioning and whether the recalled implant is in need of replacement.

In that visit, your orthopaedic surgeon may also want do a blood test that looks at the level of microscopic metal particles around your hip. Metal particles are a sign that recalled implant has failed. If the blood test indicates a high level of these particles, your surgeon may want to do a second blood test three months later. These levels may be high even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, so this blood testing is very important.

2. Call HensonFuerst Attorneys for important information about your rights. If you or someone you care about received one of these defective joint replacement components, we would like to speak with you right away.  You may have a legal case and be eligible to collect compensation for the injury caused by this faulty medical device.

What’s most important: DO NOT contact DePuy or other manufacturer, or SIGN ANY RELEASES OF YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS TO DePuy or JOHNSON & JOHNSON or any other manufacturer before you talk with a lawyer. On DePuy’s website, they ask patients to register with them and receive a claim number. DO NOT DO THIS YOURSELF. Let a lawyer handle everything. Big corporations look out for their own financial interests, not the interests of people who may have been harmed. If Johnson & Johnson was interested in helping patients, they would not have allowed the device to continue to be sold even after they knew it was causing serious problems.

At HensonFuerst, your health is our top priority. We dedicate ourselves to protecting individuals from the greed and callousness of large corporations. Let us work for you. Someone is available to take your call 24 hours/day, every day of the year at 1-800-4-LAWMED (1-800-452-9633). Or, visit our website at www.lawmed.com for more information. You can also fill out a free online consultation form for an immediate evaluation of your case.

Life doesn’t wait, and neither should you. If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.


To read the full article in The New York Times, click here:  Remedy Is Elusive as Metallic Hips Fail at a Fast Rate

To read our previous blogs about metal-on-metal hip replacement devices, click here:

Hip Replacements to Be Evaluated for Safety

—or here:

Hip Implant Complaints Surge

To watch our video about the DePuy hip replacement device recall, click here:  HensonFuerst video about DePuy recall