A liver transplant is often a life-saving procedure. As the second largest organ in the body, the liver is crucial to human health. Without a properly-functioning liver, the body will struggle to obtain nutrients, process waste, regulate blood sugar, and more.
What is a liver transplant? What happens during the transplant process?
A liver transplant is a procedure in which an unhealthy or damaged liver is replaced with a healthy, fully-functioning liver. Livers become available for transplants when a living or non-living individual’s liver becomes available for donation. An individual will only able to obtain a liver transplant when a liver that matches the body size and blood type of the individual is found.
The liver is the only organ in the body that is able to regenerate itself. Due to this unique capability, some individuals may receive a partial liver donation. Most commonly, however, a whole liver is donated to the individual in need.
In most cases, a healthy liver will be placed in the location that the original, damaged liver once occupied. The surgery is performed by a large team of professionals, and often includes three or more surgeons along with a team of nurses and specialists. The surgery can take as little as 3 hours or as many as 20, depending on potential complications during surgery.
The liver transplant process is often highly complex.
Currently more than 6,000 liver transplants are performed each year in the United States. Liver transplant surgery usually takes between four and twelve hours. Most patients stay in the hospital for up to three weeks after surgery. Many tissues and muscles may need to be sewn back together after the transplant has taken place. Post-surgery, individuals will often remain in the hospital for two to three weeks so that they can be adequately monitored.
Who is eligible for a liver transplant?
Liver transplants may be needed for a variety of reasons. Generally, transplants are reserved for serious cases of liver disease that may become fatal.
Cirrhosis is the main reason for liver transplants worldwide. Hepatitis B Virus and Hepatitis C Virus are also common reasons for needing liver transplants. Other reasons for needing a liver transplant include, but are not limited to: liver cancer, alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease, bile duct problems, and autoimmune liver conditions.
How does an individual qualify for a liver transplant?
Individuals qualify for a liver transplant after being evaluated by doctors and specialists. These professionals will ultimately decided whether or not a person is eligible for a transplant.
If selected, the person will be added to a national liver transplant waiting list. The most serious cases of liver failure will be prioritized, with less sick individuals falling lower on the list. Individuals will be contacted if and when a donor match is found.
How long will someone have to wait for a liver transplant?
There is no way to say for certain how long an individual will have to wait for a liver transplant. In countries like the U.S. and U.K., there are thousands of individuals waiting for liver transplants. Unfortunately, there are not enough donors to keep up with the demand for this vital organ. Ultimately, waiting time will vary based on the seriousness of your condition and the availability of a donor organ that matches your needs.
What are transplant risks and complications?
Today, there are few risks to liver transplants. It is possible that the body will reject the liver transplant. Modern medications, however, have been developed to reduce the risk of the immune system attacking the transplant organ. These medications have standard side effects, such as headaches, nausea, and diarrhea, but do not seriously affect most patients.
Infections sometimes occur with liver transplants. Though these may be a pain to endure, most infections can be treated and are unlikely to be serious.
How long can someone live with a liver transplant?
Liver transplant patients generally have good prospects. Though it often takes patients six months or more to fully recover from surgery, most individuals return to normal life within a year of receiving their new liver.
3 out of 4 liver transplant patients are alive five years after receiving their transplant. In those who do not survive, it is generally the fact that liver disease has returned and damaged the transplant organ. For most individuals, however, a transplant is a fresh start. A new liver can lead to a healthier, happier life.