Life after liver transplant
Today, the number of people surviving liver transplantation is higher than ever before and the vast majority now go on to lead an active life.
Transplantation is still very complex and remains a treatment rather than a cure for your condition. Because of this it is not unusual for some people to find themselves readmitted to hospital during the first year. Complications following transplantation can be caused by infections, recurrent disease such as primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) or cancer and problems in other parts of the body that can take several years or decades to unfold.
The powerful drugs that play such a big part in helping people survive and recover from transplantation can pose their own problems. Many of these can have side effects that affect some people more than others.
For some people, staying away from alcohol remains a major physical, social and/or psychological challenge for them to overcome.
These factors, combined with the fact the liver is such a complex and vital organ, mean that liver transplantation – from assessment to the transplant itself and your recovery period – is a unique procedure that requires a wide range of specialist health professionals to help you back to as normal a life as possible.
Although you will be required to attend follow-up clinics for the rest of your life, for most people these visits will become less regular as they get better. Follow up is normally at your transplant centre in the first year and after this, all being well, your care may be shared with your local GP. However, you can choose to be seen at your transplant centre indefinitely.
If you do have problems, it is very likely you will need to keep in close contact with your transplant team and let them know if you feel something isn’t right.
In addition to specialist medical care that is in place to manage complications, transplant centres should have support services, including liaison staff to provide support if you are feeling anxious or down. Also, if your transplant was needed due to alcohol or drug issues you may well benefit from speaking with a substance misuse specialist who should be available to help.
Dr David Patch, Consultant Physician and Hepatologist, Royal Free Hospital, London
Liz Shepherd, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Royal Free Hospital, London
Kerry Webb, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham