Spain's King Juan Carlos is to undergo a third hip operation in less than two years after suffering what appears to be an infection that is hampering his ability to walk, officials said today.
A specialist surgeon from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has flown to Madrid to examine Juan Carlos and determined that surgery is needed to clear up a problem that has been causing the monarch considerable discomfort.
"Microbiological analysis is required," said Miguel Cabanela, "but it appears his majesty is suffering from an infection in his left hip".
At a press conference in the royal palace, Rafael Espotorno, chief official in charge of the king's household, told reporters that a decision had been taken to operate on the 75-year-old in Madrid.
Dr Cabanela would be in charge of surgery, although the hospital to be used has not yet been determined.
The king broke his right hip while on an elephant hunting safari in southern Africa in April last year. He then had joint reconstruction surgery on his left hip in November after doctors said age and sporting activity had taken their toll.
In March, the 75-year-old underwent his fourth operation in 12 months to deal with herniated discs in his spine. Although the head of state resumed his normal work routine, it is clear he has not been able to resume walking without the aid of crutches.
The king has suffered several health issues in the past two years, including needing knee and Achilles heel surgery as well as the removal of a benign lung tumour.
It has not been a good few months for the king, who has largely been admired for his role in helping steer Spain to democracy after a long period of military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco.
The monarch's son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, who is married to the king's second daughter, Princess Cristina, is under investigation on suspicion of having used his position to embezzle several million dollars in public contracts assigned to a supposedly non-profit foundation he set up.
And Juan Carlos was vilified last year after it became clear his first hip fracture happened while on a costly African safari to hunt elephants - at a time when ordinary Spaniards were being buffeted by a financial crisis that has left the economy lurching into its second recession in three years.
Dr Cabanela said recovery time would depend on what type of germ was causing the infection, the state of the patient's tissues and the number of times he might need to be operated on. The specialist said the king's condition might require two operations and recuperation may take from eight weeks to six months.
Mr Espotorno said the king had not considered abdicating as a result of his health problems.