From Health Watch USA: A paper published in the Journal of Patient Safety reviewed 25 cases of cobalt poisoning caused by wear or corrosion of chrome-cobalt alloy hip replacement parts. The patients suffered from neurologic, heart, psychologic, immune, blood and thyroid problems or a general health decline that usually improved after the removal of the worn or corroded implant. Illness severity ranged from death to depression with most patients experiencing hip pain and some decline in hearing, sight or sensation.
Blood cobalt levels of the afflicted ranged from 10 to 1000 times that allowed in industry and higher blood cobalt correlated with illness severity. This degree of blood cobalt elevation is frequent in patients implanted with chrome-cobalt alloy hip components.
Patients with hip replacements with both a chrome-cobalt ball and a chrome-cobalt socket (metal-on-metal hips) are at high risk for elevated blood cobalt and poisoning. This technology is no longer popular but a million American patients have this type of hip. Most hip replacements have a chrome-cobalt ball with a plastic socket (metal-on-plastic hip). Elevated blood cobalt levels are not common in patients with metal-on-plastic hips therefore cobalt poisoning (Cobaltism) is likely comparatively infrequent in this larger group of patients (about 4 million Americans). Cobaltism from hip replacement was thought to be a rarity but the paper’s authors speculate that under-diagnosis and under-reporting underlie this assumption.
Persons with hip replacements that experience health problems without an obvious explanation – particularly hip pain, hearing or vision loss, heart failure, or psychiatric problems – should consult their primary medical provider. Whether or not a hip replacement with chrome-cobalt parts is excessively wearing or corroding can be determined by checking a urine cobalt level. The authors call for better surveillance of American hip replacement patients, like programs existing in Australia.