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If you have a liver disease that may one day require a transplant, you may have heard about the MELD score. But what exactly is this score, and how is it calculated?

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What Does the MELD Score Mean?

According to the American Liver Foundation, 14,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for a liver transplant. Every year, about 2,800 of those people will be unable to undergo this life-saving surgery, simply because there aren’t enough deceased-donor livers available.

Patients with end-stage liver disease undergo an extensive pre-transplant evaluation to learn if a transplant is the best treatment option for them. Before being placed on the waiting list, patients are assigned a score to determine how urgently they need a transplant. This is called the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, or MELD score. The sickest patients, those with the highest MELD scores, will receive a transplant first.

The MELD calculator helps to ensure that the sickest people receive a transplant as soon as possible. MELD scores range from six to 40 and are based on the likelihood of death within a three-month period. The higher the score, the more serious the patient’s disease.

How Is the MELD Score Calculated?

To find your MELD score, doctors examine the results of several lab tests. These tests determine how much sodium is in your blood, and how well your kidneys and liver are working. Doctors also look at your bilirubin level, which indicates how well your liver processes bile.

The higher your score, the higher your priority to receive a liver when a donor organ is available. Patients with a MELD score between 30 and 40 are typically at the top of the waiting list.

Doctors recalculate the score on a regular basis. If your score is 25 or higher, it will be recalculated every week. If your score is below 20, the UPMC Liver Transplant team will continue to monitor your condition and recalculate your score every few months.

Although the MELD score range is important, it’s not the only factor used to determine how organs are allocated. Other factors, such as blood type, body size, donor age, and geographic information all affect eligibility for organ transplant.

Living-Donor Liver Transplant for Patients with a Low MELD Score

Unfortunately, for many patients with liver disease, the MELD score doesn’t accurately reflect how sick they are. Ongoing symptoms of liver disease, such as weight and muscle loss and a buildup of fluid in the chest and limbs, can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.

For patients with a low score — who may face a long wait for a deceased-donor liver transplant — another option is a living-donor liver transplant. Living donation can greatly reduce time spent on the transplant waiting list. Patients who can find a living donor (a family member , friend, or a stranger who wishes to help someone in need) are able to receive a transplant sooner and before their condition worsens.

Learn more about living-donor liver transplant at LifeChangingLiver.com.

About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.