Cobalt Poisoning and Metal-on-Metal Hip Implants

A metal-on-metal hip implant is made of chromium and cobalt, and consists of a cup that’s implanted into the hip with a ball joint that connects to the leg. According to a New York Times report published in March 2010, metal-on-metal hip implants have been used in about one-third of the approximately 250,000 hip replacements performed annually in this country. However, many of the nation’s leading orthopedic surgeons have reduced or stopped use of these devices because of concerns that they can cause severe tissue and bone damage. When they wear, metal particles from these hip implants can infiltrate organs and tissues, and may even create large, painful cysts. The limited studies conducted so far on metal-on-metal hip implants estimate that 1 to 3 percent of implant recipients could be affected by the problem.

An October 2010 article published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery linked metal-on-metal hip implants to cobalt poisoning. The article described two patients from Alaska who developed the condition after receiving DePuy ASR metal-on-metal hip implants. Both were “fit, well, forty-nine-year-old men at the time of metal-on-metal arthroplasty with ASR implants,” the article said. Thirty months after surgery, one patient’s blood cobalt level was 122 µg/L, while the second patient’s measured 23 µg/L one year after receiving a metal-on-metal implant. According to the study’s authors, normal serum cobalt level is 0.19 µg/L, and 95 percent of those who are unexposed to cobalt have a value of <0.41 µg/L.

Within one year of the hip implant surgery, both patients experienced symptoms of persistent hip pain and shortness of breath as the microscopic metallic particles from the hip implant were released into the bloodstream and tissues. Two years after the hip implantation, the patients in the study experienced even more symptoms of cobaltism, which can include irritability, fatigue, tinnitus, hearing loss, headaches, loss of coordination, cognitive decline, and depression. After revision surgeries, the patients’ symptoms improved. The authors called for a larger group study to define the prevalence and spectrum of cobalt poisoning due to hip replacement surgery.

Hip replacement patients should be relatively pain-free three months after surgery. Any new pain or increase in pain at that point should be promptly communicated to your surgeon, as it may indicate a complication. Signs that you may be the victim of a failed metal-on-metal hip implant and cobalt poisoning include:

  • Swelling, Extreme Pain & Discomfort
  • Dislocation of Implant
  • Clicking, Popping or Grinding
  • Loosening of the Implant
  • Unexplained Hip Pain
  • Thigh Pain or Groin Pain
  • Pain with Walking
  • Pain Rising from a Seated Position
  • Pain with Weight Bearing

Victims of cobalt poisoning from metal-on-metal hip implants may be entitled to receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. Lawyers at our firm who specialize in defective medical device litigation are offering free lawsuit evaluations to victims of  cobalt poisoning from a metal-on-metal hip implant. If you are suffering health problems due to a defective hip implant, we urge you to contact a cobalt poisoning attorney at our firm today to to get a free cobaltism case evaluation to find out whether you could be eligible to file a cobalt poisoning lawsuit.