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New Knees, Hips May Also Help the Heart

Joint replacement might boost physical activity in arthritis patients, study author says

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Another expert called the study "very encouraging."

"Orthopedic surgeons are often used to taking care of healthier populations, and they may be reticent to do surgery on someone with heart disease," said cardiologist Dr. John Erwin III, an associate professor and vice chair of the department of internal medicine at Baylor Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas.

"While obviously there are risks to surgery, even previous heart patients can go on to do well after joint replacement surgery, and their quality of life improves," Erwin said.

Erwin agreed that the ability to move more likely made the biggest difference in heart risk. In addition to the physical benefits, he said getting their independence back also makes a big difference in patients' depression symptoms, which can also affect heart risk.

There are risks to joint replacement surgery. These include damage to the tissues and nerves, infections, the need for reoperation, blood clots and even death, according to study author Ravi. "The benefits of surgery need to be weighed carefully against the risk. If you're fairly unhealthy, surgery could be a problem," he said.

And, people need to know that the recovery time is long. "Most studies show that people start feeling a lot of benefit by six months, though that's variable. People can usually return to activities in six months to a year," Ravi said.

For people with more severe arthritis, Ravi said that there aren't a lot of other options. Medical management with painkillers or injections can help with earlier stages of the disease, but not as much when arthritis is more advanced. He said if arthritis is interfering with your daily life, and keeping you from doing the things you want to do, you might want to talk with your doctor about surgery.

Ravi and his colleagues are scheduled to present their findings Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, held in New Orleans. Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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