What is a Liver Transplant?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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A liver transplant is a surgical procedure in which a liver is removed from a donor and placed into someone else's body. Typically, the livers used in liver transplants come from people who have died and donated their organs. It is also possible to transplant part of a liver from a living person, as sections of the liver are capable of regrowing, a trait which makes the liver a rather unique organ. The survival rate for patients after liver transplant is about 75% over five years, and 60% over 15 years.

This medical procedure is used to replace a failing or severely damaged liver. Most commonly, liver transplants are used for patients who have developed severe cirrhosis as a result of chronic infection or lifestyle. Liver cancer, hemochromatosis, and diseases which affect the bile ducts can also lead to a need for a liver transplant.

Once the need for a transplant is identified, the patient is placed on a waiting list for donor livers, and he or she undergoes periodic testing to determine the level of healthy liver function. Patients can avoid the waiting list by receiving a directed donation from the family member of someone who has died with viable organs, or by receiving a living donation from a friend, family member, or altruistic stranger. Transplant candidates must take immunosuppressive drugs so that their bodies will not attack the transplanted liver after the surgery.


Like all surgeries, the liver transplant procedure carries risks, especially since the patient's health is usually degraded as a result of reduced liver function. Uncontrolled bleeding, reactions to anesthesia, infection, or rejection of the donated organ are all potential problems. Patients must take medications to prevent rejection for the rest of their lives, and they usually need to undergo testing to check on the health of their livers periodically to make sure that everything is working properly. Patients usually remain hospitalized for around three weeks after the surgery so that their doctors can monitor them, and in the case of a transplant from a living donor, the donor also needs some recovery time to allow his or her liver to regrow.

Receiving a donor liver also requires some lifestyle changes. Because recipients have to take drugs to suppress their immune systems, they are more prone to potential infections, and they have to be careful around people who are sick. Usually a healthy diet must be consumed to support liver health, and the patient may require six months to a year after transplant to reach her or his former activity level. Since the alternative to liver transplant is often death, many patients feel that these risks and lifestyle changes are a reasonable price to pay for a new liver.


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Post 2

My dad was an identical twin, and his brother has two daughters, so if, God forbid, any of us ever need a kidney, or a liver, we may have a ready match in a cousin, since, genetically, we are half sisters. That's been a blessing and is a comforting thought.

I do have some issues with people getting livers who need a transplant because they destroyed their livers through their own lifestyle choices. Not that they shouldn't be able to be listed, but I just think they should be a lower priority than a child or someone who has a liver disorder caused by genetics, or just bad luck. Maybe that makes me a bad person, but I just don't like the thought of someone with a genetic disease being passed over for a liver because someone who was a chronic drinker is sicker.

Post 1

A liver transplant from a live donor is actually an easier sell since the donor's liver will regenerate, unlike donating a kidney, where the donor will have to live on one kidney, and hope it doesn't fail. the disadvantage is, of course, the surgery is more extensive and requires a hospital stay, and several weeks off work. A living kidney donor can usually go back to work in a couple of weeks.

Still, the advantage of a living donor transplant is that the recipient usually has a better outcome with a liver from a live donor. They have a lower rejection rate, and the donated liver may function better than a cadaver liver.

These surgeries are generally considered if the donor and the recipient have a close relationship.

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