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Death Rate After Hip, Knee Replacements Has Dropped

Experts credit advances in post-surgical care for lower risk


Iorio said doctors also have gotten better at managing the chronic health conditions that many patients have. That, in turn, lowers the risk of complications.

For the study, Lalmohamed's team turned to Denmark's system of national health registries. The researchers found information on more than 112,000 people who had a hip or knee replacement between 1989 and 2007.

Overall, the rate of death in the two months after surgery fell over time, from about 3.4 percent each year between 1989 and 1991 to 1.4 percent per year between 2003 and 2007, Lalmohamed said. Deaths from heart attack, stroke and pneumonia all dropped, despite the fact that heart and lung disease was more common in patients who had surgery in recent years.

Lalmohamed said there's still a need for similar studies in other countries. But he also said candidates for joint replacements can be reassured by his team's findings.

Iorio agreed. "Clearly, patients can take heart," he said. "This operation is safer than it was 20 years ago, and it's very effective."

Iorio said, however, that some surgeons and hospitals are better than others. In general, surgeons and centers with the most experience in hip and knee replacements have better results than those who do fewer procedures.

And, of course, each patient is different, Iorio said. An individual's overall health -- rather than age alone -- is vital. But, he added, it's also possible to manage some of the health issues that can increase the risks of joint-replacement surgery. Patients can quit smoking or lose excess weight, for example.

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