Milestones After Living-Donor Liver Transplant

If you’ve received a liver transplant from a living donor, you may be wondering what to expect as you recover. You may also wonder what your new normal will feel like.

During the first year after a living-donor liver transplant, you’ll have plenty of testing and follow-up care. But taking care of your new liver — and your health — is a long-term commitment. Here are some milestones you can expect along the way.

Starting Anti-Rejection Drugs After Liver Transplant Surgery

Once liver transplant surgery is complete, your new liver will begin to function. Your doctor will prescribe anti-rejection drugs called immunosuppressants. These medications help your body accept your new liver and prevent your immune system from attacking it.

The transplant team will monitor your response to these drugs and make any needed adjustments. Though the risk of organ rejection is highest during the first three months after surgery, you’ll take these medications for life.

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Leaving the Hospital After Liver Transplant Surgery

While you’re in the hospital, doctors will confirm that your new liver is functioning as it should. Your care team will help you:

  • Begin to eat solid foods.
  • Get out of bed and walk.
  • Talk with you about what to expect when you leave the hospital.

When your doctor feels you’re ready, you can leave the hospital. Most people who have living-donor liver transplant surgery can go home about two weeks after surgery. But even after you leave the hospital, you’ll still need special care.

You should:

  • Stay close to the transplant center. You can return to your home if it’s nearby. Otherwise, make arrangements to stay somewhere closer until your doctor tells you it’s OK to go home.
  • Arrange for help. You’ll need someone to care for you 24 hours a day for the first six weeks after surgery. You won’t be able to drive for six to eight weeks.
  • Keep all follow-up appointments. See your care team for all scheduled appointments. You’ll have blood tests to check your liver function and your response to anti-rejection drugs.

The First Three Months After Surgery

During the first three months after living-donor liver transplant surgery, your care team will check you regularly for signs of organ rejection. Let your doctor know right away if you have:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Headache.
  • Fever.
  • Yellowing of eyes or skin (jaundice).

Continue to get plenty of rest during this time so you can heal. Follow your care team’s instructions and keep taking all medications as directed. Contact your transplant team immediately if you develop any new symptoms or don’t feel well.

Returning to Daily Activities

As your energy increases, you may feel ready to return to your regular daily activities. Most people feel ready to go back to work and other activities by six months after surgery. You know your body best, so talk with your doctor for guidance and about any concerns you may have.

At the six-month mark after transplant, expect to see your doctor about once a month for follow-up visits to check your liver function. Your care team will decide how often you need to come in based on your health and how your new liver is functioning.

Passing the One-Year Mark

At one year after surgery, you’re likely to feel healthy and strong as your new liver continues to function well. Your doctor will let you know how often you need to come in for follow-up visits and liver function tests. It’s still very important that you keep every appointment.

Your doctor may check your kidney function, blood sugar, and blood pressure to make sure anti-rejection drugs aren’t causing new issues. 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 fit and healthy as possible. If you have questions or develop any new symptoms at any time, contact your transplant team.

The Rest of Your Life

Liver function tests and follow-up care will be part of your life for as long as you have your new liver. You’ll continue to take immunosuppressants to help keep your liver functioning and prevent organ rejection.

Your doctor will check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels to make sure they stay in a healthy range.

Take these steps to help keep your body — and your liver – healthy:

  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of lean protein and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Get all recommended vaccinations.
  • Stay up to date with all cancer screenings your doctor recommends for you.

While doctors can’t be sure how long your new liver will continue to function, taking good care of your health can help. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to get the best health outcomes after living-donor liver transplant surgery.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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.