The sensitivity, specificity and predictive values of raised plasma metal ion levels in the diagnosis of adverse reaction to metal debris in symptomatic patients with a metal-on-metal arthroplasty of the hip

I. A. Malek, A. King, H. Sharma, S. Malek, K. Lyons, S. Jones, A. John


Plasma levels of cobalt and chromium ions and Metal Artefact Reduction Sequence (MARS)-MRI scans were performed on patients with 209 consecutive, unilateral, symptomatic metal-on-metal (MoM) hip arthroplasties. There was wide variation in plasma cobalt and chromium levels, and MARS-MRI scans were positive for adverse reaction to metal debris (ARMD) in 84 hips (40%). There was a significant difference in the median plasma cobalt and chromium levels between those with positive and negative MARS-MRI scans (p < 0.001). Compared with MARS-MRI as the potential reference standard for the diagnosis of ARMD, the sensitivity of metal ion analysis for cobalt or chromium with a cut-off of > 7 µg/l was 57%. The specificity was 65%, positive predictive value was 52% and the negative predictive value was 69% in symptomatic patients. A lowered threshold of > 3.5 µg/l for cobalt and chromium ion levels improved the sensitivity and negative predictive value to 86% and 74% but at the expense of specificity (27%) and positive predictive value (44%).

Metal ion analysis is not recommended as a sole indirect screening test in the surveillance of symptomatic patients with a MoM arthroplasty. The investigating clinicians should have a low threshold for obtaining cross-sectional imaging in these patients, even in the presence of low plasma metal ion levels.


  • No benefits in any form have been received or will be received from a commercial party related directly or indirectly to the subject of this article.

  • Received October 5, 2011.
  • Accepted March 26, 2012.
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