Liver Disease & Liver Transplant

When damage from liver disease is so advanced that it cannot be reversed and the patient is in danger of liver failure, a liver transplant is necessary. Most liver transplants are performed because of liver failure caused by hepatitis C (HCV).

Unfortunately, the number of patients who need liver transplants is greater than the number of available organs. Any candidate for a liver transplant must undergo extensive testing to determine if a transplant is likely to succeed and to identify potential problems. These evaluations usually are performed at an organ transplant center.

Liver transplant requires a team of health care professionals to perform the pre-surgery evaluation, the surgery, and the post-surgical care. Liver transplant teams often consist of a surgeon, several physicians with differing specialties, several nurses, a mental health professional, a dietician, a physical therapist, and a pharmacist.

The transplant team evaluates each patient who needs a new liver and assigns a score that represents the severity of the patient's condition. Patients are then placed on a waiting list to receive a donated liver.

Donated livers come from people who agree to donate their organs when they die or from living family members who agree to give a portion of their liver to a loved one in need (called live-donor liver transplant). Because a healthy liver can regenerate itself, a transplanted liver from a live donor can regenerate in about 6-8 weeks.

Most transplant patients are hospitalized for up to 3 weeks. Because a new liver is foreign tissue in the body, patients must take medications that suppress the immune system for the rest of their lives to prevent rejection.

Six months to 1 year after transplant surgery, many patients are able to return to a normal or near-normal lifestyle. Seventy-five percent of patients who receive liver transplants are still alive 5 years after their surgery. The five-year survival rate for living donor transplants is even higher.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 16 Mar 2008

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015