For most people the single most important thing after "I hope the operation goes ok", is "I hope I don't have to go through that again". As we all too painfully know, any prosthetic implant carries a risk, and hip replacement surgery is no exception. Therefore, taking time to do some research is vitally important because there are literally hundreds of different types of artificial hip and it is worth understanding the differences.
There are precautions that can be taken to ensure that the hip lasts - possibly including the use of bone-strengthening drugs. A recent study, published on the British Medical Journal website, showed that the failure rate could be cut in half if patients take bisphosphonates. These are used to prevent the loss of bone material although further studies are needed.
More than 50,000 hip replacements take place in the UK each year with numbers increasing dramatically each year due to greater numbers of obese and elderly in the population. While they can last for decades, some fail within years due to the ongoing osteoporosis breaking down the bone surrounding the replacement joint making it loosen. Bisphosphonates, which prevent bone being broken down during osteoporosis, would prevent this loosening. After five years, 1.96% of implants in the 41,995 patients who did not take the drug failed, compared with 0.93% in the almost 2000 patients taking medication. The researchers looked at data from General Practice Research Database for joint replacements and compared what happened to 1,912 patients taking bisphosphonates with 41,995 patients who did not.
The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies welcomed the findings: "With such a high incidence of knee and hip replacement surgery, the possibility that the life of joint implants could be lengthened and reduce the number of complex revision surgeries means that these results have the potential to make significant improvements to the lives of many NHS patients," she said.