The Facts About Liver Transplant: Survival Rates, Statistics, and More
The Facts About Liver Transplant
Liver transplant is a last resort treatment measure. A transplant can help save your life when your liver no longer works. Also called a liver or hepatic transplantation, the treatment involves the surgical removal of the entire organ. It is then replaced with a healthy donor liver. Having a healthy liver is essential to longevity because the liver is responsible for nutrient distribution and toxin removal in your body.
Criteria for a Transplant
Cirrhosis, or liver injury, is a common reason why adults need liver transplants. Patients with severe liver damage from alcoholism, chronic hepatitis, and cancer may also need new livers. Children with bile and digestive issues are often candidates for this surgery. Your medical team will also consider other factors, including:
- severity of your condition
- history of tuberculosis (TB) and infections
- overall physical condition
- mental well-being
- level of support from family or friends
Waiting for Transplantation
Once a transplant center determines that you are eligible for liver transplantation, you will be placed on a waiting list. This is in part determined by a Model of End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score, which is based on blood tests. The highest scores are placed at the top of the list.
Since surgery’s success depends on a good match with a qualifying donor, your wait time may also vary based on your body size and blood type. Regular blood tests are necessary to update your MELD score and position on the list.
According to the American Liver Foundation, there were over 16,000 patients on the national waiting list as of October 2012.
When a Match is Found
Waiting for a liver transplant is a long process, but the surgery coordination happens quickly once you have a match. The liver can come from either a:
- deceased donor who had a healthy liver
- living donor (the right side of the donated organ is used in adult recipients, while the left is used for children)
The American Society of Transplantation estimates a total surgery time of eight to ten hours.
Your Recovery Process
Getting the transplant is just a part of the process of getting a new liver. According to the American Liver Foundation, a three-week hospital stay is common after transplantation. During this time your doctor will evaluate the success of your operation, as well as determine your needs for homecare. It may take up to one year until you can get back to a “normal” routine again. Let your doctor know if you have any emotional or mental health needs before you’re discharged.
Possible Risks and Complications
The greatest risk of this operation is transplant failure. In such a case, your body rejects the new liver, often for reasons doctors can’t determine. Liver transplant also puts you at a high risk for infection, which is why you should avoid exposure to illness after you go home. Other long-term complications include:
- weight gain
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- skin cancer (and other cancers)
Understanding Survival Statistics
A liver transplant can extend your lifespan. Still, it’s important to understand that you may not be in the clear forever, despite a successful surgery. According to the American Liver Foundation, 75 percent of transplant patients live at least five years after surgery. Sometimes the liver can fail, or the original disease may return.
It’s important that your doctor monitors your recovery long after transplantation to detect any potential problems. Regular blood tests and anti-rejection medications are common.
Healthy Liver Tips
After liver transplantation, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, including regular exercise and a healthy diet. You can incorporate habits like these at any stage to boost your strength and overall health. A healthy physical state may reduce your chances for transplant rejection.
You can also limit risk factors that contribute to liver disease. Among the most common are:
- alcohol abuse
- acetaminophen overdose
- high cholesterol
- Facts About Liver Transplants (2006, December). American Society of Transplantation. Retrieved November 11, 2013 from http://www.myast.org/sites/default/files/legacy_pdfs/patient_education/english/AST-EducBro-NewLiver-E.pdf
- Liver Transplant (2012, October 25). American Liver Foundation. Retrieved November 11, 2013 from http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/transplant/
- Liver Transplantation (n.d.). Medline Plus. Retrieved November 11, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/livertransplantation.html