Frequently Asked Questions
If you follow care requirements after transplantation and don’t have complications, there is no limit to how long a transplanted liver lasts. Your condition, health and lifestyle affect transplant success. Certain diseases – such as hepatitis C – can return causing complications that require treatment.
Doctors may advise a liver transplant procedure for life-threatening liver disease or injury. Conditions causing serious liver damage include:
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Poisonous foods or substances
- Drug reaction or overdose
- Improper use of acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Viral hepatitis (inflammation)
- Autoimmune, metabolic or genetic diseases
- Primary liver cancer
- Cirrhosis (scarring)
- Biliary (bile, bile ducts or gall bladder) disease
- Fatty liver disease
- High cholesterol
Your team manages liver transplant donor risks and discusses ways to prevent complications. Risks include:
- Abnormal bleeding or clotting
- Bile fluid leaks
- Organ damage
- Abdominal hernia
- High blood pressure
Any surgery has risks, including those related to your pre-surgery condition. Doctors manage risks, including prescribing medication to control clotting and prevent infection or rejection. Following care instructions also reduces risks. Potential complications include:
- Organ-rejection – Your immune system can attack the new liver as foreign tissue.
- Infection – Infection may develop around internal or external surgical sites.
- Excess bleeding – Post-transplant bleeding requires surgery.
- Abnormal clotting – Clots in a blood vessel to or from your liver can cause organ damage.
- Biliary injury – Injuries can include damage to bile ducts.
- Medication side effects – Infection risk can increase from weakened immunity.
Liver transplant recovery for donors depends on the procedure – including the type and size of liver tissue removed and whether it’s minimally invasive or open surgery.
After surgery, a liver donor stays overnight in intensive care. You’ll move to a hospital room where specialists oversee your care. Most donors are hospitalized for a few days to a week.
Liver tissue regrows, forming a complete liver in six to eight weeks. You’ll return for outpatient evaluation. Full recovery usually ranges from three to six weeks.
If you find a suitable living donor, wait times can be as short as a few days or weeks. If not, doctors send your information to a national transplant waiting list managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
It can take months or longer to find a suitable donor liver. Experts measure certain criteria and assign a priority score. This indicates how urgently you need a new liver. Those who are critically ill are more likely to get the next available liver.
- Measures affecting your score and wait time include:
- Severity of liver disease and condition
- Whether you’re on dialysis
- Kidney function and liver health blood measurements
- Blood type and group
- Availability of suitable donor organs in your region
- Distance from donor location to transplant center
Experts help you plan a liver transplant diet. Generally, avoid or limit:
- Fried, fatty, sugary or salty foods
- Raw or undercooked fish or meat
- Alcohol (avoid or limit as instructed by your doctor)
- Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
Drink plenty of water and choose:
- Vegetables and fruit
- High-fiber foods
- Lean meat
- Skinless poultry
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Fat-free or low-fat milk
Anti-rejection drugs weaken your immune system. You take a higher dose for weeks or months after your transplant. During this time, you have a greater risk of fungal and respiratory infection. As your body adjusts, doctors lower the dose.
Since you take anti-rejection drugs for life, you’ll have a higher risk of infection and certain types of cancer.
It’s best to limit or avoid alcohol to protect your liver and long-term health. Generally, most people can have one or two occasional drinks. Your doctor will advise you about your condition and appropriate diet and lifestyle changes.