Infection or metal hypersensitivity : The diagnostic challenge of failure in metal-on-metal bearings

Published online: Apr 27 2011

John G. Galbraith, Joseph S. Butler, Tara-Jane Browne, David Mulcahy, James A. Harty

From Cork University Hospital, Cork, Ireland


The use of second generation metal-on-metal hip articulations has gained favour in the past few years. A hypersensitivity reaction to the metal-on-metal bearing, although rare, is a reported complication and is a novel mode of failure of these implants. Differentiating failure secondary to infection from failure secondary to metal hypersensitivity represents a significant diagnostic challenge. A retrospective review of all cases of hip arthroplasty using metal-on-metal bearings over a 5-year period at a tertiary referral centre identified 3 cases of failure secondary to metal hypersensitivity. Clinical presentation, serological markers, radiological imaging and histological analysis of all cases identified were evaluated. Histological analysis of periprosthetic tissue in all 3 cases identified characteristic features such as perivascular lymphocytic aggregates and chronic inflammation consistent with aseptic lymphocytic vasculitis-associated lesions (ALVAL). This study highlights that failure secondary to metal hypersensitivity must be considered in patients presenting with the reappearance of persistent pain, marked joint effusion, and the development of early osteolysis in the absence of infection.