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Understanding Liver Transplants

A liver transplant can be life saving when the liver no longer works or has a disease that can be cured with a liver transplant. A liver transplant involves surgical removal of the entire liver. It’s then replaced with all, or part, of a healthy donor liver.

The transplant evaluation process

If your provider thinks you may be a good candidate for a liver transplant, he or she will refer you to a transplant center for evaluation.

You will have a variety of tests done by the transplant center team. They will decide whether you are a good candidate to receive a transplant.

The transplant center team will include:

  • A transplant surgeon
  • A transplant provider specializing in treating the liver (a hepatologist)
  • Transplant nurse coordinators
  • A social worker
  • A psychiatrist or psychologist
  • A nutritionist
  • A financial counselor

Additional Testing includes:

  • Psychological and social evaluation. Many different issues are assessed. They include stress, financial concerns, and whether you will have support from family or friends after your surgery.
  • Blood tests. These tests are done to help find a good donor match and assess your priority on the waiting list.
  • Diagnostic tests. Tests may be done to check your liver and your general health. These tests may include X-rays, ultrasounds, a liver biopsy, heart and lung tests, colonoscopy, and dental exams. Women may also have a Pap test, gynecology exam, and a mammogram.

What if a friend or family member wants to donate part of their liver?

Once you are on the liver transplant list, if your transplant team feels that a living donor is appropriate for your situation, they will advise you how to proceed. However, in the United States, less than 5% of all liver transplants are done with living donors.

The transplant center team will review all your information and will make the decision about whether a liver transplant is appropriate.

You may not be able to have a transplant if you:

  • Have a current or chronic infection that can’t be treated
  • Have metastatic cancer. This is cancer that has spread from its main location to one or more other parts of the body.
  • Have severe heart or lung problems or other health problems
  • Have a serious condition besides liver disease that would not get better after a transplant.
  • Are not able to follow a treatment plan
  • Have ongoing alcohol or drug abuse
  • Lack of social support or inability to follow the guidance of the transplant program.

Getting on the waiting list

If you are accepted as a transplant candidate, your name will be placed on a regional transplant waiting list. People who most urgently need a liver are put at the top of the list. Many people have to wait a long time for a liver transplant.

What is done to prevent rejection?

You must take medicines for the rest of your life to keep the transplanted liver healthy. These medicines are called anti-rejection medicines (immunosuppressive medicines). They modify your immune system’s response to prevent recognition of the liver as foreign.

In most cases you will take several different anti-rejection medicines at first. The doses may change often, depending on how you respond to them.

Because anti-rejection medicines affect the immune system, people who have a transplant are at a slightly higher risk for certain infections. The symptoms of rejection may look like other health problems. Talk with your transplant team about any concerns you have. It is important to see them and speak with them often.

Providers at AZ Liver Health are trained and experienced in evaluating and managing liver transplant patients and maintain a referral relationship with liver transplant programs in the region and nationally.

Setup an Appointment with Arizona Liver Health

Call Arizona Liver Health at 480-470-4000 to set up an appointment with one of our experienced providers who can help diagnose your liver condition and put you on a path toward improved outcomes.