Will a hip replacement beep at security?

People commonly ask, “Will my hip or knee replacement set off the metal detector when I go through airport security?

Your prosthesis will probably not set off the detector. But “probably not, can be maybe yes”

Airport scanning usually involves you walking under an arch-type metal detector.
These work by an alternating electromagnetic field. Metal objects within the field undergo temporary magnetism which disrupts the electromagentic eddy currents from the THR or TKR. The receiver picks up these disturbances.
The amount of electromagnetic disturbance depends on the iron content in the metal and by the manufacturing process.

Joint Replacements

Joint replacements contain metal in both the “stem” that anchors the prosthesis into the femur bone and also in the “socket” where it attaches to the pelvis. Some hip replacements may also have metal in the “ball” (femoral head) which sits on the end of the femur.  The specific metal alloys are different now to in the past as implants and materials evolve. The sensitivity setting of the detector determines whether your new joint will beep.

Detectors

In today’s day and age, airport’s improved detection of metal objects (eg box cutters, knives etc) is better as detectors are more sensitive and use lower threshold settings. Many new detectors are more “intelligent” and can differentiate between a joint implant and a weapon.

The answer of whether the detector may beep or not is still “probably not but maybe” as it depends

  1. on which detector model is used
  2. which country you’re travelling through, and
  3. how the detectors are  programmed.

If you do “beep” airport security staff will likely wave a handheld detector over you to localise what set the detector off and then will perform a quick and professional “pat down” to confirm that you not carrying a dangerous object.
In the extremely unlikely event that they ask to see your surgery scar their professional training means they are gender, religious and culturally sensitive in performing this.

An ID card or letter to identify that you had surgery does not hold much weight.

With the increasing number of joint replacements airport authorities are working on ways to reduce passenger inconvenience by measures such as possible including implant data on passport biometric information.

Summary

In the meantime, passengers should travel in confidence that their implant is fairly unlikely to beep at the airport and that if it does, airport security are generally well trained and professional in secondary screening measures that will get you through security with minimal disruption or inconvenience.

Modifed by Helen Potter FACP 2017

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