What is a liver transplant?

A liver transplant is the surgical replacement of a damaged or diseased liver with a donor liver. It is a treatment for end-stage liver disease and other severe liver conditions. Liver transplantation is a life-saving surgery used when all other medical and surgical options have failed. 

A liver transplant is a major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a liver transplant.

Types of liver transplant 

The types of liver transplant surgery include:

  • Living donor transplants use a portion of a live person’s liver to replace the damaged or diseased recipient’s liver. Living donor transplants work because the liver is capable of regeneration or growing to meet the body’s needs. Living donors are usually a family member or close friend of the recipient. 
  • Whole cadaver transplants use the entire liver from a deceased donor to replace the damaged or diseased recipient’s liver. 
  • Split cadaver transplants use part of a deceased donor’s liver to replace the damaged or diseased recipient’s liver. In a split cadaver transplant, the donor’s liver is divided into two parts that are transplanted into two recipients. The recipients are usually children or petite adults. 

Other procedures that may be performed 

Diseases that cause serious damage to the liver can also cause serious damage to other organs. These can include the kidney, lung and heart. For example, polycystic kidney disease (PKD) can damage both the liver and kidneys. Another organ may be transplanted during a kidney transplant in rare cases. Your doctor and transplant care team will determine if a combination transplant procedure is right for you.

Other transplant surgeries include:

  • Heart transplant replaces a diseased or damaged heart with a donor heart.
  • Kidney transplant replaces a diseased or damaged kidney with a donor kidney.
  • Lung transplant replaces a diseased or damaged lung with a donor lung. 

Why is a liver transplant performed?

Your doctor may recommend a liver transplant to treat end-stage liver disease and other severe liver conditions. Normal liver function is crucial to your life and overall health. 

Your doctor may only consider a liver transplant for you if other medical and surgical treatment options have failed. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a liver transplant. 

Your doctor may recommend a liver transplant for: 

  • Acute liver failure, which is liver failure that happens very quickly. It is usually due to poisoning or drug overdose. The most common cause of acute liver failure is drug-induced liver injury from acetaminophen (Tylenol). 
  • Congenital defects, which are present at birth including biliary atresia. Biliary atresia causes absent, damaged or blocked bile ducts and is the most common reason for liver transplant in children.
  • End-stage liver disease, which is the most advanced form of chronic liver failure. Cirrhosis (irreversible scarring of the liver) is the most common cause of end-stage liver disease in adults. Cirrhosis is caused by hepatitis B and C, alcohol abuse, autoimmune liver diseases, hereditary liver diseases, bile duct diseases, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 
  • Liver cancer, which includes hepatocellular carcinoma, hepatoblastoma, and cholangiocarcinoma

Who performs a liver transplant?

Transplant surgeons and pediatric surgeons perform liver transplants. Transplant surgeons specialize in transplant surgery of the kidney, liver, pancreas, and other organs. Pediatric surgeons specialize in surgery for infants, children and adolescents. 

How is a liver transplant performed?

Your liver transplant will be performed in a hospital. A liver transplant surgery can take up to 12 hours. It is an open surgery. It involves making an incision ribs in your upper abdomen across the bottom of both sides of your ribs. An open incision allows your doctor to directly view and access the surgical area. Your surgeon will remove your liver, place the donor liver, and reattach blood vessels and bile ducts through this incision.&