Preventing Infection

Your doctor has provided this information to answer some of the questions you may have about the importance of preventing infection after your joint replacement. It will also help you better understand what to do if you develop an infection and require medical treatment.

Recovering From Joint Replacement

After your joint replacement, your orthopaedic physician will likely give you specific instructions on movement, exercising and wound care. Most people are encouraged to stand, even walk, the day after surgery. Your doctor may provide you with a walker, cane or crutch. Depending on the joint replaced, and your overall health, your doctor may also prescribe a course of physical therapy, so that a trained healthcare provider can guide you through specific therapeutic movements.

Joint replacement surgery has a 90% success rate across the board.1 But, as with any surgery, there are possible complications associated with joint replacement. Among them, infection may occur in the wound, or even around the joint implant itself (prosthesis). Infection can set in while you're in the hospital or after you go home. Minor infections of the wound are often treated successfully with antibiotics. A deeper infection may cause the implant to loosen, become painful and require additional surgery and, eventually, another joint replacement. The good news is that most infections are preventable.

Helping to Prevent Infection

Before and during your joint replacement surgery, your doctor will take measures to reduce the risk of bacterial infection. You may be given a preventative antibiotic right before, and for a short time after, your surgery. Your doctor will also recommend that you take antibiotics before you have any invasive procedure or test (like a colonoscopy or dental work).2 Because you now have an implant, it may give bacteria a place to hide from your body's natural immune response, increasing your risk of infection.2 A preventative course of antibiotics will help to reduce that risk.

Treating a Joint Replacement Infection

People who develop infections within the first few months of joint replacement surgery are often treated successfully with intravenous 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 intravenous antibiotics.2 Careful blood monitoring helps to determine when the infection is thoroughly cleared. A new joint replacement may be considered at that time.

If you have any questions about caring for your wound site or preventing infection in your joint replacement, be sure to talk with your doctor.

References:

1. NIAMS: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Osteonecrosis. National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. 
2. Arthritis Foundation. Avascular Necrosis (Osteonecrosis): What causes it?. 
3. AAOA: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Osteonecrosis of the hip. 

© Stryker Orthopaedics 2008

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