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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.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 13, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Getting a New Liver. American Society of Transplantation. http://www.a-s-t.org/files/pdf/patient_education/english/AST-EducBro-NewLiver-E.pdf.
  2. Health After Transplantation. American Society of Transplantation. http://www.healthytransplant.com/health_maintenance/health_after_transplantation.aspx.
  3. Live donor Liver Transplant. University of Southern California. http://www.surgery.usc.edu/hepatobiliary/livedonorlivertransplant.html.
  4. Liver Transplant. American Liver Foundation. http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/transplant/.
  5. Liver Transplant. The University of Chicago. http://www.uchospitals.edu/specialties/transplant/liver.html.
  6. Liver Transplant Program. UC San Diego Health System. http://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/surgery/transplant/areas-expertise/liver-transplant-program/Pages....
  7. Liver Transplantation. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/livertransplant/#9.
  8. Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf.
  9. What I Need to Know About Liver Transplantation. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/DDISEASES/pubs/livertransplant_ez/#7.

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