Life After Liver Transplant: What to Expect the First Year

Liver transplant surgery is a huge step toward a healthier life for people facing end-stage liver disease (liver failure). Transplant from a living donor helps reduce the time you spend waiting for a new organ. As you prepare for living donor liver transplant, you may already be thinking about life after the transplant.

Taking good care of yourself is critical during the first year after surgery. To stay as healthy as possible, follow your transplant team’s instructions. Though everyone is different, here’s what you might expect during the first year after living donor liver transplant.

What to Expect Right After Liver Transplant Surgery

You’ll likely spend a few days in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). You’ll begin taking medications called anti-rejection drugs (immunosuppressants) to keep your immune system from trying to fight (reject) your new liver.

You might feel sore after surgery. Doctors can help manage your pain with medication if needed.

Most liver transplant recipients are ready for discharge about two weeks after surgery. But life after liver transplant won’t go back to normal right away. You’ll need to:

Stay close to the transplant center

If you live nearby, you can return to your home after hospital discharge. But if you traveled for living donor liver transplant surgery, you’ll need to stay near the transplant center for several weeks.

Doctors keep you close by in case your body rejects the liver or an infection develops. Staying near the transplant center also makes it easier to get to your post-surgery appointments. The team will track your well-being during this time.

See your transplant team for follow-up care

Expect to visit the transplant center about once a week. Your transplant team will make sure your body is accepting your new liver. If necessary, doctors will adjust the dosage of your anti-rejection medications.

Have frequent laboratory tests

You’ll have regular blood tests in the weeks after surgery to make sure your new liver is functioning. Doctors may check your kidney function, blood sugar, and blood pressure to make sure the medications aren’t causing new or worsening issues. Your team will also check you for signs of infection.

Have a caregiver with you for at least six weeks

Liver transplant is major surgery. You’ll need someone to stay with you and help with self-care and other daily tasks. Someone should accompany you round the clock until your doctor says you’re OK on your own.

You’ll also need help with transportation to follow-up appointments. You cannot drive for six to eight weeks after liver transplant surgery.

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What to Expect Three Months After Living Donor Liver Transplant Surgery

You’re most at risk for health complications (including infection) in the first three months after liver transplant. During this time, your body is recovering from surgery and adjusting to your new organ. As your body gets used to taking anti-rejection drugs, you might feel:

  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness
  • Weakness

Your transplant team will let you know how often you need to come in for testing and follow-up care. Most people come in every two weeks, but your doctor will decide based on how you’re recovering and your overall health. It’s important to keep all scheduled appointments with your doctors.

Be sure to report any:

  • Appetite loss.
  • Headache.
  • Fever.
  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Nausea.
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
  • Dark urine.

What to Expect Six Months After Surgery

You may find you’re able to return to your regular daily activities, including work, at six months. You’ll likely feel stronger and more energetic. Expect to start seeing your transplant team for a follow-up visit once a month.

What to Expect Nine Months to One Year After Liver Transplant Surgery

If you’re healing well, life after liver transplant may feel close to normal by nine months after surgery. Your doctor will let you know how often you need to come in for follow-up visits and laboratory testing. It’s still very important that you keep every appointment.

You’ll continue to take immunosuppressants for as long as you have your transplanted liver. It’s important to know these medications can increase your risk of:

  • Diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Skin infections.

Follow your doctor’s recommendations for diet and exercise to stay as healthy as possible. If you have questions or develop any new symptoms at any time, contact your transplant team.

UPMC, After Liver Transplant Surgery, Link.

UPMC, Liver Transplant Surgery Frequently Asked Questions, Link.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Nutrition: Liver Transplant for Patients, Link.

Best Practice & Research: Clinical Gastroenterology, Follow-up of Liver Transplant Recipients, Link.

American Liver Foundation, Liver Transplant, Link.

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.