Recovery After Living Donor Liver Transplant

If you’ve been managing end-stage liver disease (liver failure), liver transplant surgery can begin a healthy new chapter in your life. If a living-donor liver transplant is the best choice for you, you’ll need to:

  • Talk with your doctor to see if a living-donor liver transplant is right for you.
  • Find a living liver donor.
  • Prepare your body for living donor liver donation.

Planning for living-donor liver transplant recovery is an important part of the preparation process. Here’s what you need to know:

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Liver Transplant Recovery: In the Hospital

Living-donor liver transplant is a significant surgery. You’ll typically spend five to seven hours in the operating room.

Once the transplant is complete, doctors will move you to the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU). Most liver transplant recipients spend about two weeks in the hospital, though you won’t be in the ICU the whole time.

While you’re in the hospital, you begin taking anti-rejection drugs (immunosuppressants) right away. These drugs help keep your immune system from seeing your new liver as a threat. You’ll take them for life.

Anti-rejection drugs decrease your immune response so the new liver can function well. Anti-rejection drugs can cause some side effects. You might feel exhausted, moody, or weak when you begin taking these medications.

Before you leave the hospital, doctors will make sure your body isn’t rejecting the liver. You’ll have regular blood tests to make sure your new liver is working as it should.

Liver Transplant Recovery: After Hospital Discharge

You may be looking forward to getting home after liver transplant surgery. But you need to be close to the transplant center so you can see your team for follow-up care. If you traveled for liver transplant surgery, plan to stay nearby until your doctor says you can go home.

Your living-donor liver transplant recovery plan should include:

  • Someone (or a rotation of people) who can stay with you 24 hours a day for the first six weeks.
  • Transportation assistance (you won’t be able to drive for six to eight weeks after surgery).
  • Help with household tasks and caring for young children.

The risk of liver rejection or developing an infection is highest during the first three months after surgery. Expect to have follow-up visits about every two weeks or as your doctor directs. The transplant team will test your blood and check for signs of organ rejection including:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Fever.
  • Yellow eyes or skin (jaundice).
  • Dark urine.
  • Light-colored stools.

It’s important to continue taking anti-rejection drugs as your doctor instructs. The transplant team may adjust your medications based on your liver function and how you’re feeling.

Liver Transplant Recovery at Home

You may wonder how long liver transplant recovery will take. Every person — and every surgery — is different. Rest is an important part of the healing process.

If you are healing well, expect your energy to return gradually during the six months after surgery. Some people feel ready to return to work and activities at this time, while others take a little longer. Listen to your body and be sure to:

Follow your doctor’s instructions

Stick to the care plan your doctor gives you. It’s critical that you take all the medications prescribed. If you have questions or don’t feel well, talk with your doctor — don’t skip doses or make changes on your own.

Don’t drink alcohol

Alcohol can be extremely dangerous to your new liver. Talk to your doctor about how alcohol use could affect you.

Limit excess salt and sugar in your diet

Your transplant team will provide a nutrition plan for you after liver transplant surgery. Eat a variety of healthy foods and follow your nutrition plan to maintain the weight that’s right for you.

Exercise regularly

Regular moderate exercise plays an important role in liver transplant recovery. Moving your body helps reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack. It can also improve your mood as you recover.

Give yourself time

You might feel ready to get back to work and your regular activities after your doctor says it’s OK. But you might not. Ask for extra time to regain your strength if you feel you need it.

If you have questions about life after liver transplant, talk with your transplant team. They can help you develop a post-surgery care plan and a realistic timeline for getting back to the activities you enjoy.

Sources

American Liver Foundation, Liver Transplant, Link.

American Liver Foundation, Liver Transplant Q&A, Link.

UPMC Transplant Services, After Liver Transplant Surgery, Link.

UPMC Transplant Services, Living-Donor Liver Transplant Frequently Asked Questions, 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.