This is a surgery to replace a diseased or damaged liver with a liver from a donor who has died. In some cases, a portion of the liver of a living, related donor may be used.
Normal vs. Diseased Liver
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A liver transplant is done to treat a liver that is not working and cannot be treated. This may be caused by:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Be sure to discuss these risks with your doctor before the surgery.
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.
Your doctor will likely do the following:
Leading up to your surgery:
General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep during the procedure.
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.
You will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU) and will have the following devices:
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
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.
While you are recovering at the hospital, you will:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Recovery time varies. It depends, in part, on your health before the transplant.
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:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Liver Foundation
United Network for Organ Sharing
Canadian Liver Foundation
Acute liver failure. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900055/Acute-liver-failure#Misc1 . Updated December 30, 2016. Accessed August 29, 2017.
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:
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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:
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Updated March 2017. Accessed August 29, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/29/2017