For hip implants, metal might have less mettle than ceramic, plastic

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All-metal hip implants are replaced more frequently than are hip implants that are made out of other materials, such as ceramic or plastic, according to a study published March 13 in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Researchers analyzed data from Britain’s National Joint Registry and found that 6 percent of metal-on-metal implants had to be fixed or replaced after 5 years, compared with 1.7 percent of ceramic implants and 2.3 percent of plastic implants.

The metal-on-metal hip implants that are involved in the study include implants that are made of a cobalt chromium or titanium alloy, which were among the newest metal-implant materials that Consumers Digest discussed in “Forever Young: The Latest in Joint Replacement” in its May/June 2008 issue.

Previously, British researchers raised concerns about how metal-on-metal joint fragments can cause tissue damage or how trace amounts of the metals can enter the blood stream. The researchers recommend that individuals who have metal hip implants be monitored annually by doctors to catch related health issues early. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t advise annual monitoring of individuals who have metal hip implants, but it recommends that people who get metal hip implants follow up regularly with their doctor.

Doctors in the United States typically expect hip joints that are made of ceramic, metal or plastic to last 10 years. Each year 285,000 Americans have hip-replacement surgery, according to Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.