How to prepare your body for your liver transplant surgery

Liver transplant can help people with end-stage liver failure live longer and healthier lives. During liver transplant surgery, surgeons remove the diseased liver and replace it with a healthy liver from a donor.

Healthy livers often come from deceased donors. But for some people, living donor liver transplant may be a better option.

The first step in any liver transplant surgery is evaluation. Your doctor will examine you and talk with other medical team members to ensure you’re a good candidate for liver transplant.

Every hospital makes its own decisions about who can get a liver transplant. You can expect to undergo certain tests, including:

  • Blood tests to see how your liver and kidneys are functioning.
  • Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, to see how blood is flowing to and from your liver.
  • Tests to see how well your heart and lungs are working.

These tests help doctors determine whether your health is good enough for transplant surgery. Test results also tell doctors whether you have an infection, cancer outside your liver, or problems with your heart or lungs. These conditions could interfere with successful liver transplant surgery.

With living donor liver transplant, you won’t spend a long time on the transplant waiting list. Once you’re approved for transplant and have identified a donor, doctors examine your donor to be sure they’re healthy. The living donor liver transplant process can move quickly — doctors will typically schedule surgery within 4 to 6 weeks.

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Getting Ready for the Living Donor Liver Transplant Procedure

You can get ready for living donor liver transplant by taking care of your overall health. You can do this by:

  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Getting any regular preventive health screenings your doctor recommends (such as colonoscopy).
  • Speaking with a mental health professional or hospital social worker to share any concerns about your surgery.

If you typically use drugs or drink alcohol, you’ll need to stop using these substances for 6 months before your transplant surgery. You might need to take occasional screening tests to show that you’re not using drugs or alcohol during this time.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about any over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications you’re taking. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid certain OTC and prescription drugs for a while before surgery.

Planning for Living Donor Liver Transplant Surgery Recovery

Most liver transplant recipients stay in the hospital for about 2 weeks after surgery. Your donor may stay in the hospital for 1 week.

Liver transplant is major surgery; you might need a few months before you feel ready to return to your normal activities. During this time, you’ll continue to see your doctor to make sure your new liver is functioning as it should. You will need to take certain drugs called immunosuppressants to prevent your immune system from attacking your new liver.

It’s important to have a team in place to support you after living donor liver transplant. You may need someone to:

  • Help you with shopping and meals.
  • Manage errands and household tasks.
  • Take care of children and pets.

Your doctor will let you know when you can begin your regular activities and return to work.

Staying Healthy After Living Donor Liver Transplant

After your living donor liver transplant procedure, you’ll see your doctor to make sure you aren’t developing any complications.

There are some steps you can take to help keep your new liver healthy after liver transplant. According to the American Transplant Foundation, you should:

  • Be careful about any potential interactions between foods you eat and drugs you take. Talk to your doctor about foods you should avoid and before taking any OTC medications or supplements.
  • Limit salt in your diet to help manage blood pressure and avoid retaining excess fluid.
  • Keep your weight in a healthy range. Be sure to report any sudden weight gain or loss to your doctor.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water. Talk with your doctor about the right levels of fluids for you.
  • Work with a nutritionist to develop a healthy eating plan.

Making a plan with your doctor for how you can best prepare for living donor liver transplant will help ensure a successful recovery.

United Network for Organ Sharing, Before the Transplant, Link

University of California at San Francisco, Liver Transplant Preparation, Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, The Liver Transplant Process, 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.