It has been reported that the prevalence of metal hypersensitivity in 10% of the general population, in 20% of people with well-performing implants, and in 60% of those with failing implants (Metal sensitivity in patients with orthopaedic implants. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2001 Mar;83(3):428-36.).
These authors conducted a retrospective study of the rates and levels of metal sensitization in a selected group of 1,038 male and 1,575 female subjects with idiopathic joint pain following total joint arthroplasty (TJA) who were referred for sensitivity testing for cobalt, chromium and nickel.
A “no pain” control group consisted of age-matched control subjects who were tested prior to TJA implantation and had no reported history of metal allergy (n = 318).
Females demonstrated a significantly higher rate and severity of metal sensitization compared with males (median lymphocyte stimulation index (SI) among males was 2.8 (mean, 5.4; 95% confidence interval [CI], 4.9 to 6.0) compared with 3.5 (mean, 8.2; 95% CI, 7.4 to 9.0) among females (p < 0.05). Forty-nine percent of females had an SI equal to or greater than 4 (reactive) compared with 38% of males, and the implant-related level of pain was also significantly (p < 0.0001) higher among females (mean, 6.8; 95% CI, 6.6 to 6.9) compared with males (mean, 6.1; 95% CI, 6.0 to 6.3).
Interestingly, a positive sensitivity test was much more common than a positive self-reported history.
While the patients with painful joints had higher mean simulation indices, many had values in the normal range.
Comment: The place of metal sensitivity testing in the evaluation of the painful arthroplasty, the cause/effect relationship of metal sensitivity to implant failure, and the success of revision to implants with different material compositions remain to be determined.
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