A liver transplant is an operation to remove your liver and replace it with a healthy one from a donor.
It may be recommended if your liver has stopped working properly (liver failure) and other treatments cannot help.
Having a liver transplant involves 3 main stages:
- Having an assessment – to find out if you're suitable for a liver transplant, you'll have several tests and will be asked about your health and lifestyle.
- Going on the waiting list – if you're suitable for a transplant, you'll need to wait for a healthy donor liver to become available, which could take several months or more.
- Having the operation – when a liver is available, you'll go into hospital for surgery to remove your damaged liver and replace it with the healthy donor one.
This can be a long and difficult process, both physically and emotionally.
Liver transplants are generally very successful and most people are eventually able to return to their normal activities afterwards.
It can take a year or more to fully recover.
After a liver transplant, you'll need to:
- take medicines to stop your body attacking the new liver (immunosuppressants) for the rest of your life
- have regular check-ups to see how you're doing and check how well your new liver is working
- stay as healthy as possible – including eating healthily and exercising regularly
Most people live more than 10 years after a liver transplant and many live for up to 20 years or more.
Read more about life after a liver transplant.
Risks and complications
A liver transplant is a big operation that has a risk of some serious complications. These can occur during, soon after, or even years afterwards.
Some of the main complications and risks of a liver transplant are:
- your body attacking the new liver (rejection)
- the new liver not working properly (graft failure)
- a blockage or leak in one of your bile ducts – bile is a liquid produced inside the liver that passes out through small tubes called bile ducts
- side effects of the immunosuppressant medicine – such as an increased risk of infections and kidney problems
A liver transplant will only be recommended if the risks of not having a transplant outweigh the risks of having one.
If you wish to donate your liver, there are 2 ways you can do this:
- donate your liver after you die or become a living donor – you have an operation to remove part of your liver and give it to someone who needs a transplant (usually a family member or friend)