Orthopedic Surgical Risks
The complication rate following joint replacement surgery is very low. Serious complications, such as joint infection, occur in less than 2 percent of patients.
Nevertheless, as with any major surgical procedure, patients who undergo total joint replacement are at risk for certain complications — many of which can be successfully avoided and/or treated. Possible complications include infections, blood clots and lung congestion.
Infection may occur in the wound or within the area around the new joint. It can occur in the hospital, immediately after the patient returns home or years later.
Following surgery, joint replacement patients receive antibiotics to help prevent infection. You may also need to take antibiotics before undergoing any medical procedures to reduce the chance of infection spreading to the artificial joint.
People who develop infections within the first few months of surgery are often treated successfully with intravenous (IV) antibiotics and a surgical technique that washes the infected implant. People who develop infections months or years after joint replacement appear to face more challenging treatment. Often these infections require surgical removal of the infected implant, use of a spacer impregnated with antibiotics to stabilize and treat the joint space, and longer-term IV antibiotics.
Careful blood monitoring helps to determine when the infection is thoroughly cleared. A new joint replacement may be considered at that time.
Blood clots form due to several factors, including your decreased mobility following surgery, which slows the movement of the blood. There are a number of ways to reduce the possibility of blood clots, including:
- Blood thinning medications (anticoagulants)
- Elastic support stockings that improve blood circulation in the legs
- Plastic boots that inflate with air to promote blood flow in the legs
- Elevating the feet and legs to keep blood from pooling
- Walking hourly
Pneumonia is always a risk following major surgery. To help keep the lungs clear of congestion, patients are assigned a series of deep-breathing exercises.