House, M.D., Helped Doctors Solve This Medical Mystery

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HUGH LAURIE
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Dr. Gregory House, M.D., may be a fictional character, but he helped doctors with a real-life case.

The case, detailed in the journal The Lancet, involved a patient who visited a Marburg University clinic in Germany in 2012. The patient had severe heart failure, but he did not have coronary artery disease, which is a common cause of the condition.

However, the patient's symptoms seemed very similar to those of a patient seen on an episode of the TV show House. In the episode, the patient's symptoms were caused by cobalt poisoning as a result of debris from a metal hip replacement.

A check in to the real-life patient's medical history revealed that he had also undergone a metal-on-plastic hip replacement, which, half a year later, led to a number of symptoms including loss of sight and hearing, hypothyroidism and fever. Ultimately, he experienced heart failure.

The doctors diagnosed him with cobalt poisoning, and sent him back to his orthopedic clinic to receive a new hip -- this time, one made of ceramic. After this hip replacement, his heart functioning improved.

"Cobalt intoxication has been a well known cause of cardiomyopathy for over 50 years; however, it has mostly been known in the context of so-called Quebec beer drinkers’ cardiomyopathy and hard steel work-related exposure to cobalt," the researchers wrote in the study.

While cobalt for use in hip replacements is considered an "excellent and stable compound," there are certain scenarios where a metal hip replacement with cobalt could lead to cobalt intoxication.

"In certain situations -- false placement, technical problems in metal-on-metal prosthesis, and strikingly often after an off-label replacement of broken ceramic hips by metal parts -- cobalt exposure to the patient from a hip prosthesis occurs," they wrote in the study. "This cobalt intoxication is an increasingly recognized and life-threatening problem."

 
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