Serious problems can occur when someone gets an infection in their joint replacement. These infections can be difficult to treat. The infection can travel throughout the body causing serious health risks. A person's life can be at stake.
For bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, the risk of losing the implant is much greater than when a mild infection is present. Patients who have had the infection for more than three weeks are at increased risk of losing the prosthesis.
Saving the knee often requires several steps. The implant must be removed. The joint is cleansed or debrided of all bacteria and infection. The empty space is filled with a special spacer that has been treated with antibiotics.
If the infection can be cleared up, then the spacer is removed and a new implant put back in. This revision procedure is called reimplantation.
Some patients can't handle all this additional medical treatment. They may have other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease that compromise their health. Their ability to heal is limited. Some patients may do better with an amputation. This may be a reasonable option if they are already wheelchair bound.
If it means saving their life, an amputation may be the treatment of choice.