The complication rate following joint replacement surgery is very low. Serious complications, such as joint infection, occur in less than 2% of patients. Nevertheless, as with any major surgical procedure, patients who undergo total joint replacement are at risk for certain complications — the vast majority of which can be successfully avoided and/or treated. Possible complications include:
Infection may occur in the wound or within the area around the new joint. It can occur in the hospital, after the patient returns home, or years later. Following surgery, joint replacement patients receive antibiotics to help prevent infection. For the rest of their lives, they may also need to take antibiotics before undergoing even minor medical procedures to reduce the chance of infection spreading to the artificial joint.
Blood clots can result from several factors, including the patient’s 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.