What is a liver transplant?
A liver transplant is an operation where your diseased liver is removed and replaced with a healthy donor human liver. Although liver transplants are now quite common, the operation is not undertaken lightly. It is a major operation and the body will always see the ‘new’ liver as a foreign agent and will try to destroy it. This means that if you have a liver transplant you will have to take medication for the rest of your life to stop your body rejecting the donor liver.
Why do I need a liver transplant?
You may need a liver transplant if your liver is damaged to the point where it is unable to repair itself and is likely to fail completely. Your doctor may advise you to have a transplant when it is thought this will either dramatically improve your quality of life or that, without a transplant, you will die.
The main causes of severe liver damage that lead to people needing a transplant are:
- viral hepatitis
- metabolic conditions (problems with the physical and chemical processes that take place inside your liver to keep you alive)
- paracetamol poisoning
How will I benefit from a transplant?
By the time you discover you need a transplant your liver might begin to fail and your quality of life may be very poor. You may have experienced the following symptoms:
- loss of appetite
- generally feeling unwell and being tired all the time
- feeling sick and being sick
- very itchy skin
- loss of weight and muscle wasting
- enlarged and tender liver (you may feel very tender below your right ribs)
- increased sensitivity to alcohol and drugs (medical and recreational)
- yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- swelling of the lower abdomen, or tummy (ascites), or the legs (peripheral oedema)
- fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
- vomiting blood
- dark black tarry stools (faeces) or pale stools, associated with cholestatic disease
- periods of mental confusion.
Having a liver transplant is a major undertaking but can lead to a resolution for these symptoms and, if successful, you should have an average life expectancy.
Download: Liver Transplantation publication
Last Updated June 2007
Reviewed by: Professor Nigel Heaton, MB BS FRCS Professor of Liver Transplantation, Kings College, London.