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What is Involved in Liver Transplant Surgery?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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The first step involved in liver transplant surgery is to determine if a patient is eligible to receive a donor liver. If so, the patient may receive counseling about the upcoming surgery and the search for a donor begins. Both deceased and live donors may be considered for liver transplant surgery. Patients are generally advised not to eat for several hours before surgery, and the colon and digestive tract are cleansed. Then, the liver is removed through an incision in the abdomen and a new one is put in its place.

Not all patients who need a liver transplant surgery will get one. Those who use alcohol or other substances, those who have heart disease and other chronic health conditions, or those who only have moderate liver damage may not be considered. Patients should be healthy enough to undergo surgery and their bodies will have to be healthy enough to sustain a new liver.

Once a patient is found to be eligible for receiving liver transplant surgery, a donor organ has to be located. Livers can be found by using a national database of organ donors. When someone who has decided to donate passes away, his or her organs are given to recipients who need them. Sometimes a live donor can be used. This is possible because only a portion of one’s liver is needed for a successful transplant, meaning that live donors can give part of their livers.

The surgery requires the patient to be cleaned of food in the digestive tract. He or she is given gneral anesthesia. Drainage clamps and a bile bag are often put in place after the initial incision is made to catch blood, bile, and other enzymes. Then the diseased or damaged organ is removed and all or part of a healthy liver is put in place. The incision is then closed.

Patients are often on breathing machines for several hours after a liver transplant surgery, and may remain in the hospital for observation for several weeks. He will be checked to ensure that the new liver is working properly. Information will also be given for how the patient can care for himself at home.

After surgery, patients will slowly work their way to normal activities. Those without additional health problems may eventually go on to live as if they were never ill. Partial livers given through a living donor will grow to full size within eight weeks, so full function will be obtained at that time for many patients.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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