After Liver Transplant Surgery
When a liver is available, you will need to get to the hospital quickly to be prepared for the surgery. If your new liver is from a living donor, both you and the donor will have surgery at the same time. If your new liver is from a deceased donor, your surgery will start when the new liver arrives at the hospital.
The surgery can take up to 12 hours. The surgeon will remove your liver and then replace it with the donated liver.
You will stay in the hospital about 1 to 2 weeks to be sure your new liver is working. You’ll take medicines to prevent infections and rejection of your new liver. Your doctor will check for bleeding, infections, and liver rejection. During this time, you will learn how to take care of yourself after you go home and about the medicines you’ll need to take to protect your new liver.
After surgery, you will learn how to take care of yourself when you go home.
Rejection occurs when your immune system attacks the new liver. After a transplant, it is common for your immune system to try to destroy the new liver.
Preventing Organ Rejection Prevented
To keep your body from rejecting the new liver, you will take anti-rejection medicines, also called immuno suppressive medicines. You will need to take anti-rejection medicines for the rest of your life.
Anti-rejection Medicines have any Side Effects
Anti-rejection medicines can have many serious side effects. You can get infections more easily because these medicines weaken your immune system. Other possible side effects include
- weight gain
- high blood pressure
- high blood cholesterol
- brittle bones
- kidney damage
- skin cancer
Your doctor and the transplant team will watch for and treat any side effects.
Signs of Organ Rejection
If your body rejects your new liver, you might feel tired, lose your appetite, or feel sick to your stomach. Other signs might include having
- a fever
- pain around the liver
- dark-colored urine
- light-colored stools
But rejection doesn’t always make you feel ill. Doctors will check your blood for signs of rejection. A liver biopsy is usually needed to tell whether your body is rejecting the new liver. For a biopsy, the doctor takes a small piece of the liver to view with a microscope.
Blood tests can help show if the new liver is being rejected.
Problems that can Damage New Liver?
Recurrence of the disease that caused the need for a transplant can damage a new liver. For example, the hepatitis C virus may return and damage the new liver in a patient who had hepatitis C before the transplant.
Other possible problems include
- blockage of the blood vessels going into or out of the liver
- damage to the bile ducts
What if the liver transplant doesn’t work?
Liver transplants usually work. About 80 to 85 percent of transplanted livers are still working after 1 year. If the new liver does not work or if your body rejects it, your doctor and the transplant team will decide whether another transplant is possible.
How do I take care of my liver after I leave the hospital?
After you leave the hospital, you will see your doctor often to be sure your new liver is working well. You will have regular blood tests to check that your new liver is not being damaged by rejection, infections, or problems with blood vessels or bile ducts.
To help care for your liver, you will need to
- avoid people who are ill and report any illnesses you have to your doctor
- eat a healthy diet, exercise, not smoke cigarettes, and not drink alcohol
- take prescribed medicines as directed
- ask your doctor before taking any other medicines, including ones you can buy without a prescription
- follow your doctor’s instructions about how to take care of your new liver
- have blood tests and other tests as directed by your doctor
- use sunblock to prevent skin cancer and have cancer screening tests recommended by your doctor
Eating a healthy diet and taking medicines are part of taking care of your new liver.
Can I go back to my Daily Activities?
After a successful liver transplant, most people can go back to their normal daily activities, and many return to work. Getting your strength back may take months, though, especially if you were very sick before the transplant. Your doctor will let you know how long your recovery period will be. Social workers and support groups can help you adjust to life with a new liver.
Work - After recovery, most people are able to return to work. Your doctor will let you know when you can go back to work.
Diet - Most people can go back to eating as they did before the transplant. Some medicines prescribed after your transplant may cause you to gain weight, and others may cause diabetes or raise your cholesterol. Eating a balanced, low-fat diet can help you stay healthy.
Exercise - Most people can be physically active after a liver transplant.
Sex - Most people can have a normal sex life after a liver transplant. For women, avoiding pregnancy in the first year after a transplant is recommended. Talk with your transplant team about when it’s okay to have sex again or get pregnant after your transplant.
If you have any questions, check with your doctor.
Things to Remember
- Liver transplantation is surgery to remove a diseased or injured liver and replace it with a healthy one from another person, called a donor.
- If your liver stops working as it should, you may need a liver transplant.
- In adults, the most common reason for needing a liver transplant is cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can be caused by many different types of diseases that destroy healthy liver cells and replace them with scar tissue. Some causes of cirrhosis are long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus, drinking too much alcohol over time, and autoimmune and other liver diseases.
- In children, the most common reason for needing a liver transplant is biliary atresia. In biliary atresia, bile ducts in the liver are missing, damaged, or blocked. As a result, bile backs up in the liver and causes cirrhosis.
- Your doctor will decide whether you need to go to a liver transplant center to be evaluated by a liver transplant team. The transplant team will examine you and run blood tests, x rays, and other tests to help decide whether you would benefit from a transplant.
- People with the most urgent need for a new liver to prevent death are at the top of the national waiting list. Many people have to wait a long time to get a new liver.
- Most livers come from people who have just died. This type of donor is called a deceased donor. Some transplants involve living donors who donate part of their liver, usually to a family member.
- Liver transplant surgery can take up to 12 hours. You will stay in the hospital about 1 to 2 weeks after surgery.
- Problems after surgery may include bleeding, infections, and rejection of the new liver.
- Rejection occurs when your immune system attacks the new liver. After a transplant, it is common for your immune system to try to destroy the new liver.
- After a liver transplant, you must take anti-rejection medicines for the rest of your life to keep your body from rejecting your new liver.
- Liver transplants usually work. Most people are able to return to work and other normal activities after a transplant.