How to prevent a feared complication after joint replacement


Missed chances

One approach to preventing periprosthetic fractures could involve prioritizing bone health earlier in life and diagnosing and treating osteoporosis well before a patient is scheduled for surgery.

A patient’s initial visit to their primary care doctor because of joint pain is an opportunity to check on and promote their bone health, given that they might be a candidate for surgery in the future, Dr. Bukata said.

Ahead of a scheduled surgery, patients can see endocrinologists or rheumatologists to receive medication to try to strengthen bones. Doctors may be limited in how much of a difference they can make in a matter of several weeks or months with these drugs, however. These patients still likely will need to be treated as if they have osteoporosis, Dr. Bukata said.

When surgeons realize that a patient has weaker bones while they are in the middle of an operation, they should emphasize the importance of bone health after the procedure, Dr. Bukata said.

Strengthening, maintaining, and protecting bone should be seen as a long-term investment in the patient’s success after a joint replacement. That said, “There is no clear evidence or protocol for us to follow,” she said. “The mantra at UCSD now is, let’s keep it simple. Get the patient on track. And then we can always refine things as we continue to treat the patient.”

Health systems should establish routines in which bone health is discussed before surgery in the way patient education programs address smoking cessation, nutrition, and weight management, Dr. Bukata said. Another step in the right direction could involve setting electronic medical records to automatically order assessments of bone health when a surgeon books a case.

Dr. Linda A. Russell, director of the Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Health Center for the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City

Dr. Linda A. Russell

Linda A. Russell, MD, rheumatologist and director of perioperative medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said periprosthetic fractures are a “complication we fear.”

“It’s a big deal to try to repair it,” Dr. Russell said. “Sometimes you need to revise the joint, or sometimes you need to put lots more hardware in.” Surgeons increasingly appreciate the need to pay attention to the quality of the bone before they operate, she said.

Nevertheless, Dr. Russell does not necessarily say that such cases call for alarm or particularly aggressive treatment regimens – just regular bone health evaluations before and after surgery to see whether patients have osteoporosis and are candidates for treatment.

Lifelong effort

In some ways, to address bone health at the time of surgery may be too late.

Bone health “is not something that you can have as an afterthought when you’re 75 years old,” said Elizabeth Matzkin, MD, chief of women’s sports medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.

The chance of being able to rebuild bone mass at that age is slim. If patients maximize bone density when they are young, they can afford to lose some bone mass each year as they age.

To that end, a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, and cutting back on alcohol can help, she said.

For Dr. Matzkin, a fragility fracture is a red flag that the patient’s bone density is probably not optimal. In such cases, she prepares for various scenarios during surgery, such as a screw not holding in a low-density bone.

Recently published research reflects that prior fragility fractures are a significant risk factor for complications after surgery, including periprosthetic fractures.

Edward J. Testa, MD, of Brown University, Providence, R.I., and colleagues analyzed insurance claims to compare outcomes for 24,398 patients who had experienced a fragility fracture – that is, a break caused by low-velocity trauma such as a fall – during the 3 years before their TKA procedure and a matched group of patients who were similar in many respects but who had not had a fragility fracture in the 3 years before surgery.

Dr. Testa’s group found that a history of fragility fracture was associated with higher rates of complications in the year after surgery, including hospital readmissions (hazard ratio = 1.30; 95% CI, 1.22-1.38), periprosthetic fractures (odds ratio = 2.72; 95% CI, 1.89-3.99), and secondary fragility fractures (OR = 4.62; 95% CI, 4.19-5.12). Patients who had previously experienced fragility fractures also experienced dislocated prostheses (OR = 1.76; 95% CI, 1.22-2.56) and periprosthetic infections (OR = 1.49; 95% CI, 1.29-1.71) at higher rates.

The rates of complications were similar regardless of whether patients had filled a prescription for medications used to treat osteoporosis, including bisphosphonates, vitamin D replacement, raloxifene, and denosumab, the researchers reported.

The lack of a clear association between these treatments and patient outcomes could be related to an insufficient duration of pharmacotherapy before or after TKA, poor medication adherence, or small sample sizes, Dr. Testa said.

Given the findings, which were published online in the Journal of Arthroplasty, “patients with a history of fragility fracture should be identified and counseled appropriately for a possible increased risk of the aforementioned complications, and optimized when possible, prior to undergoing TKA,” Dr. Testa told this news organization. “Ultimately, the decision to move forward with surgery is far more complex than the identification of this sole, yet important, risk factor for certain postoperative, implant-related complications.”

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