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Nickel Allergy May Cause Knee Implant Complications

May 17, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Knee replacement patients may suffer serious side effects from their knee implants if they have an allergy to nickel in the device.   Fortunately, not all knee implant devices contain nickel, so these complications can be easily be avoided if the presence of an allergy is determined prior to surgery.

Some knee implant recipients may know before their procedure that they have a nickel allergy, especially if they have had a skin reaction to nickel-containing jewelry.  In other cases, a patch test may detect a nickel allergy, though they are not always accurate.

If a knee replacement patient has a reaction to a nickel in an implant, they will need to have the device replaced with knee implant made with another type of metal.  Symptoms of a knee implant nickel reaction may include:

  • Swelling at the joint
  • Loosening of the knee implant
  • Rash or eczema around the site of the knee implant
  • Pain
  • Infection

Knee implant revision surgery for a nickel allergy might require the implantation of a spacer with antibiotic cement to clear up any infection in the joint.  Once the infection is gone, a new knee replacement device can be implanted.

Non-nickel knee implants are made from either titanium, or a ceramic-coated zirconium known as “oxinium.”  Other types of knee implants are made wit chrome/cobalt alloy, or stainless steel, both of which contain nickel.

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