Joint Replacement Infection

A serious and dangerous complication after joint replacement surgery

Hard at work saving lives
Squaredpixels/Vetta/Getty Images

Joint replacement infections are a very dangerous surgical complication, particularly knee and hip replacement infections.

These infections are difficult to treat because the bacteria strike the prosthetic itself, which is a metal or porcelain object and not human tissue. Infectious bacteria adhere to the implant, making the implant a hospitable location for infections.

What's worse, fighting infections depends on blood flow for an effective immune system response and also to deliver antibiotics to the area. Artificial implants have no blood supply, which makes joint replacements a safe haven for bacteria.

Even with aggressive antibiotic treatment and surgical cleansing, curing an infection on a joint replacement is often impossible. Many times the only way to cure an infection is to remove the entire implant, treat the infection, and redo the joint replacement.

Joint replacement infection symptoms include pain and stiffness in the joint, redness and warmth around the incision, wound drainage, and fever.

Preventing Joint Replacement Infections

These infections are rare, occurring in 1% to 2% of patients, but given that joint replacement surgery has become one of the world's most common elective procedures, thousands are affected each year.

Surgical staff now have routine procedures in place to prevent infections. Some steps are known to lower the risk of infection, while some are thought to help but whether they actually do hasn't been proven.

The most common measures:

  • Antibiotics before and after surgery. Antibiotics are given within one hour of the start of surgery and continued for a short period following the procedure. Different antibiotics may be used depending on the patient's individual history of infection, allergies to specific medications, and other concerns.
  • Short operating time and minimal operating room traffic. Surgical efficiency helps to lower infection risk by limiting the time the joint is exposed. Limiting the number of operating room personnel entering and leaving the room is also thought to decrease risk.
  • Use of strict sterilization techniques. Care is taken to ensure the operating site is sterile. Reusable instruments are sterilized in an autoclave and not exposed to any contamination. The implants are packaged to ensure their sterility. Disposable items are sterile and discarded after use.

Even after a successful operation, patients remain at risk for infection from transient bacteria entering the bloodstream. Because of this, joint replacement patients should take antibiotics before common but invasive procedures such as dental work or colonoscopies.

Infection Risk Factors

Most patients have no identifiable cause for developing an infection. Still, some known risk factors include:

A Word From Verywell

Infection after joint replacement surgery is among the most feared complications of this surgical procedure. If you experience any symptoms, contact your doctor immediately for blood tests and a possible x-ray or MRI to diagnose the problem.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.