Liver Transplant: Uses, Risk, Preparation

Overview

A liver transplant is a surgery that removes a liver which no longer functions properly and replaces it with a healthy one from a donor. Your liver is the largest internal organ in your body, playing a very important role in your life. Its functions involve:

  • Removing bacteria and toxins from the blood
  • Preventing infection and regulating immune responses
  • Processing nutrients, medications, and hormones
  • Producing bile, which helps the body absorb fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins
  • Making proteins that help the blood clot

If you are with liver failure, a liver transplant can save your life.

According to statistics, about 7,100 liver transplants were performed in the United States in 2015. Among these, almost 600 patients are 17 years old or younger.

Uses

A liver transplant is a treatment option for people with liver failure and for some people with liver cancer. Liver failure may happen quickly (acute liver failure) or over a longer period of time (chronic liver failure). A liver transplant can treat both of them, but it is more often used to treat chronic liver failure.

A number of conditions may lead to chronic liver failure, among which cirrhosis is the most frequently cited reason for a liver transplant.

Conditions that may result in cirrhosis requiring a liver transplant involve:

  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Genetic diseases affecting the liver (including hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease).
  • Diseases that affect the bile ducts

Besides, liver transplant is also used to treat certain cancers originating in the liver.

Risks

Not only does liver transplant carry a risk of complications itself, but also the drugs used to prevent rejection of the donor’s liver have side effects.

The surgery may lead to complications such as:

  • Bile duct complications, including bile duct leaks or shrinking of the bile ducts
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Failure of donated liver
  • Infection
  • Rejection of donated liver
  • Mental confusion or seizures

Furthermore, liver disease may recur in the transplanted liver.

Anti-rejection medication may cause many side effects, including:

  • Bone thinning
  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

These medicines also increase your risk of infection, for they work by suppressing your immune system.

Preparation

If your doctor recommends a liver transplant, you should get prepared by choosing a transplant center and completing the evaluation.

Choosing a transplant center

When you are considering transplants, you may want to:

  • Learn about the number and type of transplants the center performs each year.
  • Ask about the transplant center’s liver transplant survival rates.
  • Compare transplant center statistics through the database maintained by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.
  • Understand the costs that will be incurred before, during and after your transplant.
  • Consider additional services provided by the transplant center.
  • Assess the center’s commitment to keeping up with the latest transplant technology and techniques.

Evaluation

Evaluation should be done to determine whether you:

  • Are healthy enough to have surgery and tolerate lifelong post-transplant medications.
  • Have any medical conditions that would interfere with transplant success.
  • Are willing and able to take medications as directed and follow the suggestions of the transplant team.

You may need to undergo the following tests, procedures, and consultations:

  • Laboratory tests
  • Imaging tests
  • Heart tests
  • A general health exam
  • Nutrition counseling with dietitians
  • Psychological evaluation
  • Meetings with social workers
  • Addiction counseling
  • Financial counseling

After these, the transplant center’s selection committee will make a decision on whether you are able to have a transplant and whether a liver transplant is best for you. If you are selected, you will be placed on the liver transplant waiting list.

After the surgery

After the liver transplant, you can expect to:

  • Possibly stay in the intensive care unit for a few days
  • Spend 5 to 10 days in the hospital
  • Have frequent checkups as you continue recovering at home
  • Take medications for the rest of your life

Survival rates

Generally, about 70 in every 100 people who undergo a liver transplant can live for at least five years. However, whether the surgery will be successful and how long you can survive after it depends on your own situation.


Keyword: liver transplant.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.