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Your Liver Transplant: The Procedure

A liver transplant is major surgery. During a liver transplant, your diseased or injured liver is removed. It’s replaced with a healthy donor liver. Most transplanted livers are still working well one year after surgery. This sheet tells you more about what to expect.

Before transplant surgery

If you have been on a waiting list, you will receive a call from the transplant coordinator once a donor liver is found. When you arrive at the transplant center or hospital, your health and condition will be checked. You and the donated liver will be tested before surgery. This is to make sure that:

  • Your body is healthy enough for surgery

  • The donated liver matches your blood type

  • The donated liver is the right size for your body

A current or recent illness, changes in the health of your liver, or problems with the new liver could cause the surgery to be postponed. This can be frustrating. Try to remember that the doctors are making the best decision for your health.

During transplant surgery

A liver transplant can take 4-12 hours. You will be given general anesthesia (medicine that prevents pain and makes you sleep during surgery). The diseased liver is taken out of your body and replaced with the new liver. The blood vessels and bile ducts are then attached to the new liver.

After surgery

You will stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 weeks, or longer. You may be in the ICU (intensive care unit) for a short time after surgery. During this time, you may be on a machine to help you breathe (ventilation). Skilled nurses and doctors will monitor your health and liver function. As you heal, tests will be done to see if the new liver is working right. These may include ultrasound tests, a liver biopsy, and blood tests. You'll learn about your medicines and how to care for yourself when you go home. In some cases, your doctor will do a “second look” surgery before sending you home.

Caring for yourself at home

Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on how to care for yourself and your new liver. You will need to see your doctor a lot. This is so he or she can check for signs of a problem. Problems to watch for include:

  • Infection

  • Complications from the surgery

  • Reactions to the medicines

  • Organ rejection

What is organ rejection?

Your body's immune system fights germs. It also protects against foreign materials that may enter your body and cause an infection. When an organ is transplanted, your immune system thinks the new organ is a foreign material and starts to fight the new organ. This process is called rejection.

Antirejection medicine prevents the immune system from fighting the organ. You will need to take these medicines for the rest of your life. Talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of taking these medicines. Be sure that all of your other doctors and healthcare providers know that you are taking antirejection medicine.



After transplant surgery, call the doctor if you:

  • Have a fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher

  • Vomit or have diarrhea for 24 hours or longer

  • Have a persistent cough or cough up green or yellow mucus

  • Have new or increasing swelling in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, abdomen, or face

  • Bleed from the nose, mouth, or rectum, or have bloody stools or urine

  • Bruise more easily than normal

  • Have a new or severe headache

  • Can’t take your prescribed medicine

  • Develop yellow eyes or skin

  • Have signs of organ rejection:

    • Unusual tiredness or loss of appetite

    • Orange or brown-colored urine

    • Pale or clay-colored stools

    • Fever

    • Abdominal tenderness or abdominal/liver pain

    • Jaundice (yellowish color to your skin or eyes)

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/17/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.