Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the surgery.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
There is a shortage of donors. You may be on a transplant list for some time. You may need to carry a cell phone with you at all times. This is to allow the transplant team to reach you if a liver becomes available.
An incision shaped like a boomerang will be made on the upper part of the abdomen. The old liver will be removed. Portions of major blood vessels will be left in place. The new liver will be inserted and attached to the blood vessels and bile ducts. To help with bile drainage, a tube will also be inserted into the bile duct during surgery. The area will be closed with stitches.
Immediately After Procedure
You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) and will have the following devices:
Breathing tube until you can breathe on your own
IV fluids and medication
Bladder catheter to drain urine
How Long Will It Take?
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
Average Hospital Stay
This surgery is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay is several weeks. Your doctor may choose to keep you longer if you show signs of rejecting the new liver or have other problems.
At the Hospital
While you are recovering at the hospital, you will:
Receive fluids and nutrition through an IV—You will slowly transition to eating.
Breathe deeply and cough 10-20 times every hour—This will help your lungs work better after surgery.
Take immunosuppressive drugs—You will need to take these for the rest of your life. These drugs reduce the chance that your body will reject the new liver. They also have potential side effects, like infection and cancer. Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Take proper care of the incision site. This will help to prevent an infection.
Work with a physical therapist. Exercises will help you to regain strength.
Monitor your temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and weight.
Follow a special diet. This diet will help to prevent water retention and to maintain a normal weight and blood pressure.
Take medications as advised by your doctor. This may include treatment for hepatitis C and immunization to prevent hepatitis B.
Recovery time varies. It depends, in part, on your health before the transplant.
Call Your Doctor
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. You will have frequent scheduled follow-ups.
Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
Signs of infection, including fever and chills—you are at increased risk for infection because of the immunosuppressive drugs
Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
Severe nausea or vomiting
Black or tarry stools, constipation, or
that does not go away after two loose stools
You are unable to take your medications
Red or rusty-brown urine
Any skin rash or sores in your mouth
Vaginal discharge in women
Pain, burning, urgency, frequency of urination, or persistent bleeding in the urine
Gee I, Alexander G. Liver transplantation for hepatitis C virus related liver disease. Postgrad Med J. 2005;81(962):765-771.
Jadlowiec C, Taner T. Liver transplantation: Current status and challenges. World J Gastroenterol. 2016 May 14;22(18):4438-45.
Liu CL, Fan ST. Adult-to-adult live-donor liver transplantation: the current status. J Hepatobiliary Pancreat Surg. 2006;13(2):110-116.
Liver transplant. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/transplant. Accessed August 29, 2017
Mendizabal M, Silva M. Liver transplantation in acute liver failure: A challenging scenario. World J Gastroenterol. 2016 Jan 28;22(4):1523-31.
What I need to know about liver transplantation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/liver-transplant/Pages/facts.aspx. Updated March 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.