Understanding Liver Transplants

Understanding Liver Transplants

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Understanding Liver Transplants

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During a liver transplant, your diseased or injured liver is removed. It’s replaced with a healthy donor liver. This sheet helps you understand the process leading up to your transplant.

Why you need a liver transplant

Your doctor can tell you more about why now is the right time to begin preparing for a transplant. It may be because the liver is not working as it should. Or, it may be that you have a health condition that would be improved by a liver transplant.

Your transplant evaluation

Before you are put on the transplant list, a transplant evaluation is done. This takes place at the transplant center. It takes 2-3 days and is done on an outpatient basis (you go home at night). Your health is assessed. Tests, such as blood tests and imaging tests, are done. You and your family will also learn more about transplantation. The transplant coordinator and the rest of the transplant team will talk to you about:

  • Benefits and risks of liver transplantation

  • Medications needed after the transplant

  • The possibility of organ rejection

  • Health insurance and financial issues

  • Options for organ donation

  • The process of waiting for an organ

  • What to expect during surgery

  • Care and possible complications after surgery

  • The emotional aspects of waiting for a transplant for you and your family

  • Travel plans for the time of transplantation surgery

  • The possibility of not finding an organ in time for a transplant

  • Researching other centers with chorter waiting times

  • Discussion of the possibility of a liver donor transplant

Where your new liver will come from

  • In most cases, the new liver comes from a donor who has just died (cadaver donor). A donated liver is screened for liver diseases, such as viral hepatitis, before the transplant is done. It’s also checked to make sure it’s a match with your blood type. A live donor liver transplant is also an option. You may recieve a referral if your center doesn't perform these types of transplants.

  • Transplants can also be done from living donors, often family members who match your blood type. The liver is the only organ in the body that can regenerate. That means that the portion of the liver removed from the living donor grows back after the transplant. The transplanted liver also grows to full size after the transplant. A living donation transplant can be scheduled ahead of time. It may be able to be done sooner than if you go on the waiting list for a non-living donor. Living donor transplants are less common than cadaver liver transplants and are only done at certain medical centers in the country.

Waiting for a transplant

Around 6,000 liver transplants are done in the United States each year. About 16,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Getting a liver transplant can be a long process. It could be months or even years before a donor liver is found for you. Here’s what will happen during this time:

  • Your name is added to a waiting list. This list is ranked by how sick people are using a special scoring system, called the MELD (model for end-stage liver disease). Very sick people are higher on the list than people who don’t need a transplant right away. If you have liver cancer or a rare disease, you may receive special points to speed your possibility of acquiring a liver organ.

  • Follow instructions for how to stay in contact with the transplant center. The transplant center maintains your status on the waiting list. If your liver disease gets worse or another health problem develops, tell the transplant center right away. These events could change your status on the list.


For more information

  • Transplant Living (United Network for Organ Sharing) www.transplantliving.org 

  • The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Networkoptn.transplant.hrsa.gov/

  • American Liver Foundationwww.liverfoundation.org