Total joint replacements may be safer than previously thought for diabetes patients

March 7, 2013

Topic: orthopaedic surgeons

Total joint replacements may be safer than previously thought for diabetes patients

Orthopaedic surgeons may recommend total joint replacement surgery for knees that are arthritic or damaged from an injury. Although previous medical professionals thought that patients with diabetes have high risks of developing post-operative complications - such as deep infection and blood clots in the legs or lungs - a new study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery shows otherwise.

Researchers looked at the electronic health records of approximately 40,000 patients who had their first knee replacement between 2001 and 2009. Nearly 19 percent of the subjects had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. They discovered that those with the chronic condition were not any more likely to develop complications after undergoing a total knee replacement than individuals without diabetes.

Twenty-six million Americans affected
People who have diabetes have an overabundance of blood glucose in their body. If they have type 1, their pancreases do not make insulin, which the body needs to produce energy in order to function. In those who have type 2, the body does not make or use insulin efficiently. Although diabetes is a serious condition for which there is no cure, affected individuals can learn to manage it by eating healthy foods, engaging in physical activities, taking medications and actively communicating with their healthcare providers. By doing so, they can live long and healthy lives.

In the U.S., approximately 26 million Americans are living with diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Among them, around 7 million are undiagnosed and not receiving the treatment and education they need to manage the condition.

Steering clear of complications
The reason why controlling diabetes is so important is that the condition can lead to long-term complications, such as heart disease, kidney failure and vision problems if it goes unmanaged. In addition to these adverse health occurrences, previous research has suggested that these patients are more likely to have poorer surgical outcomes due to their high glucose levels than individuals with normal blood sugar levels. 

Now, the study's investigators have disproved this.

"We are fortunate to do our research in a real-world setting that helps us to find real-world solutions for our patients," said study researcher Annette Adams, Ph.D. "This current study suggests that patients with diabetes who have higher glucose levels may not be at greater risk of poor surgical outcomes. This finding will help physicians and their patients with diabetes make better informed decisions about total knee replacement as an option."

By performing total joint replacements, orthopaedic surgeons hope to relieve pain in the affected joint, caused by damaged cartilage, by replacing it with a prosthesis. When cartilage loses its function, a person may experience extreme discomfort and avoid using the joint altogether, limiting his or her ability to perform everyday tasks. The procedure is meant to improve the quality of life for these patients. 

Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine news & articles

More articles