Metallosis is a relatively rare condition that comes about when metallic debris builds up in the soft tissues of the body. This condition is often seen in individuals who have undergone joint surgery and have had metal parts implanted into their body as a result. Hip, knee and elbow implants that contain metal parts are all linked to issues with metallosis. Not all individuals who have metal implants will suffer from metallosis. However, metallosis may be an issue that individuals with metal implants ought to be familiar with.

Causes of Metallosis

Metallosis has been observed in individuals who have undergone hip replacement surgery. Specifically, patients who have received fully metal implants are most likely to suffer from metallosis. Full metal implants are made entirely from metal parts. Full metal hip replacements were designed to provide a greater level of durability than previous technologies. Full metal hips use metal-on-metal construction. This means that the midsection of the hip socket and the femur replacement at the top of the leg are made out of metal. When the implant flexes, one metal surface may rub on another metal surface.

Metal on Metal Hip Replacements

The symptoms of metallosis are thought to be directly related to the metal-on-metal rubbing that can occur in full metal hips. When the metal femur and hip socket pieces rub together, they create tiny bits of metallic debris. The more rubbing takes place between these two metal surfaces, the more small bits of metal can be reduced into the surrounding tissues. These small particles of metal may be toxic for the body and cause symptoms of metal toxicity.

Metal-on-metal hip replacements were specifically designed to be durable and undergo a large degree of flexing and articulation. These hips were designed for younger and more active individuals who moved about frequently. However, the potential side effects of hip replacement metallosis are made worse by frequent movement. This movement can cause accelerated wear when the metal surfaces rub against each other and an increase in metallic debris saturation in the soft tissues around the implant site.

Several of the metals that are used in common hip replacements are suspected to cause metallosis symptoms. These metals include cobalt, titanium and chromium. There has been research aimed at measuring metal concentration levels around the site of implants. One study compared patient’s metal concentration levels at the time of receiving a hip implant to metal levels ten years after their surgery. After ten years, the patients’ chromium, cobalt and titanium metal concentration levels were found to be more than three times higher than they had been at the time of surgery.

Metallosis Symptoms

Metallosis caused by a metal implant can present itself in the form of a variety of symptoms. Some of these symptoms are physical and nature and can be seen. Some metallosis symptoms are psychological in origin and thus should be monitored in a different fashion as they may be less outwardly visible.

Physical symptoms of metallosis may include:

  • Grey discoloration in the area surrounding the site of a metal implant
  • Severe pain in the implant joint
  • Loosening of the affected implant
  • Bone deterioration around the implant
  • Inflammation and swelling around the implant

Psychological symptoms of metallosis may include:

  • Confusion or decreased cognitive function
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nervous system issues

Metallosis Lawsuits

Many reported cases of metallosis are associated with metal-on-metal joint replacements. Some individuals who have received metal-on-metal implants feel that the manufacturers of this technology did not properly test it out prior to making it available to the public. Specifically, a number of lawsuits have been filed against the makers of all-metal hip replacements. Individuals who have a metal-on-metal hip replacement should be aware of the symptoms of metallosis and consider contacting a medical malpractice attorney in the event that they suffer from metallosis.

View Sources
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  2. Levine, BR, and AR Hsu. "Ten-year outcome of serum metal ion levels after primary total hip arthroplasty: a concise follow-up of a previous report*.."Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 95.6 (2013): 512-8. Web. 16 Jun. 2013.
  3. Sharma, OP, and J Lochab. "Severe metallosis leading to femoral head perforation." Orthopedics. 36.2 (2013): 241-3. Print.