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What is Liver Transplantation?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 17, 2024
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Liver transplantation, in simple terms, is the replacement of an unhealthy liver with a healthy one, or in some cases, with part of a healthy one. It requires several stages of testing, planning, and often waiting, before the actual procedure can be done. First, the cause of the liver dysfunction must be established. If the condition is irreversible and severe, liver transplantation may be advised.

Under certain conditions, which indicate the potential patient is a poor candidate for liver transplantation, the procedure will generally not be performed. These include serious or persistent infections, a current addiction to drugs or alcohol, and other serious diseases such as cancer. If there is no other option, and the patient is a good candidate, his or her name will then be placed on a waiting list for liver donors.

Those considered as being in the most dire need of liver transplantation generally top the list. The wait can be extensive for those who are not seen as the most urgent cases. It is possible to find a living donor in some cases; a person who is willing to donate a portion of his or her liver. The donor must also be tested to ensure that his or her liver is not diseased or incompatible.

The patient must also be healthy and stable enough to undergo liver transplantation. The patient's health-care team will advise him or her on the best methods of care and keeping up strength. The procedure can take many hours. Once the liver is removed, the new one will be inserted and the surgeon will reconnect bile ducts and blood vessels. It is an intricate process.

After liver transplantation, the patient won’t be able to eat anything solid right away and will be on a liquid diet. He or she will generally need be observed and given many tests to ensure his or her body isn’t rejecting the new liver. It is also imperative to ensure that there is no infection. This process tends to take a couple weeks.

The health-care team will help the patient learn how he or she must care for himself or herself once he or she returns home. The patient may be able to eat solid foods again within a short time but will need to opt for healthy choices. After liver transplantation, the patient will always need to follow a healthy regimen and always take medications. He or she will need to take the medications faithfully to reduce the chance of the new liver being rejected and to help avoid infection.

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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