Joint Replacement May Improve Heart Health

Hip and knee replacements restore mobility and quality of life to over 1 million people each year in the United States, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention). Now a new study points to an important added benefit from these types of joint replacement procedures: a healthier heart.

Research conducted at the University of Toronto in the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery found that hip and knee replacements led to significant increases in physical activity in the arthritis patients undergoing the procedures. As a result, the patients experienced a reduced risk of heart disease.

In the study, researchers followed 2,200 patients over the age of 55 with osteoarthritis, the type of arthritis associated with normal wear and tear on the joints. Over the course of the five-year study, they found that the risk of a serious heart problem or death from cardiovascular disease was 37 percent lower in people who had a knee or hip replacementcompared to those who didn't have such surgery. However, while the study found a link between having joint replacement surgery in people with arthritis and reduced risk of heart events, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Orthopaedic surgeon John Noble Jr., MD, with the Center for Orthopaedics, explains that joint replacement surgery is exactly what it sounds like: removing a damaged joint and replacing it with a new, artificial joint. "It’s important to understand that joint replacement is an elective procedure, not an emergency one. Most patients do not choose surgery as their first option to treat degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis. We try conservative treatments first, which can often help them stay mobile and pain-free for some time. But some patients suffer for years with the debilitating pain of osteoarthritis; delaying surgery until the pain has severely limited their mobility.”

Because of the lack of mobility that typically results in cases of severe arthritis in the knees and hips, arthritis has long been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular death, explains cardiologist Corey Foster, MD, with Cardiovascular Specialists. "People who have moderate to severe arthritis often have other conditions, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which are often related to physical inactivity. When you look at the activity levels recommended by the American Heart Association, for example, which is about 30 minutes a day, it may not seem like a lot, but for someone with severe arthritis who can’t take a step without severe pain in their hip or knee joint, it’s impossible. It does not surprise me at all that after having a successful joint replacement procedure which allows a patient to return to a more active lifestyle that their risk of cardiovascular conditions would decrease. It makes perfect sense.”

Both Dr. Noble and Dr. Foster agree that more research is needed on the cause-and-effect relationship between joint replacement and decreased cardiovascular risk, but say the results from this longitudinal study are very promising and reflect what they have seen in their patients. "Our goal is to restore pain-free movement to our patients,” says Dr. Noble. "We know that by doing so, they will enjoy a healthier, happier life, and this study shows that the impact of joint replacement on overall health may be not only life-changing, but life-saving.”

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