What are the risks associated with liver transplant?

A liver transplant is a medical procedure to replace a damaged or destroyed liver with a new healthy liver from a deceased person or from a living donor. Liver is the largest internal organ that has a tendency to grow back on it’s own. It performs the following functions: 


  • It helps make proteins that help the blood clot.

  • It helps to remove bacteria and toxins from the body.

  • It helps boost immunity and prevent infection. 

  • It also processes nutrients, hormones and medications throughout the body. 

  • It helps to produce bile- required to absorb fats, cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins. 


A liver transplant is also called hepatic transplant which can help save life when the liver no longer functions. The treatment involves surgical removal of the entire failed liver and placing it with a new healthy liver. Liver is vital for the body because it is responsible for filtering blood and removing toxins from your body. Problems after liver transplant may arise after operation. Many problems are minor while some can cause serious complications. Hence, treating them becomes important.        

Liver transplant operation is carried out on patients who no longer respond to other treatments and their liver has failed to function properly. The number of patients waiting to receive liver transplant generally exceeds the number of available donors. 

Living donor is a great alternative than waiting for a deceased donor to become available. Living donor liver transplant is possible because the liver has a tendency to grow back its normal size after the surgery and function properly.  


Acute liver Failure:

Acute liver failure is the failure of the liver that occurs in days or weeks usually in a person who has no previous liver disease. It’s commonly caused by hepatitis drugs or viruses such as acetaminophen.

Acute liver failure affects the younger generation and carries a very high mortality.       


Risks associated with liver transplant:

Every medical procedure carries certain risks and complications. Following are the risks associated with liver transplant as well: 


  • Bleeding 

  • Blood clots

  • Infection

  • Seizures or mental confusion

  • Failure of donated liver (graft failure)

  • Rejection of donated liver 

  • Complication of bile duct such as leaks in the bile duct or shrinking of the bile ducts 


The biggest risk associated with liver transplant is rejection of the “new” liver. Long term risks may include recurrence of liver disease after the transplanted liver. After liver transplant, your doctor will prescribe you with immunosuppressants drugs (anti-rejection) medication for the rest of your lives to help prevent rejection of the donated liver.

These anti-rejection medications have certain side effects:


  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • High cholesterol

  • Bone thinning 


Infection, rejection and disease recurrence are some of the common problems after liver transplant and if untreated may lead to graft failure and increased risk of mortality. 


The two most common risks associated with liver transplantation:


  1. Rejection of the new kidney:

The immune system tends to destroy foreign substances that invade in the human body. The immune system cannot literally classify differences between the transplanted liver and unwanted intruders such as bacteria and viruses so it attempts to attack and destroy the new donated liver. This is called rejection incidence. In the first year, around 30% of recipients have rejection episodes after the transplant. Patients have to take anti-rejection drugs to ward off immune system attack. 


  1. Infection:

Anti-rejection medications work by suppressing the immune system, they also increase risk of infection. This problem will lessen over a period of time. Your doctor will prescribe you drugs to fight infection. Please note, not all patients have problems with infection and most infections can be successfully treated.  


How much does a liver transplant cost? The average cost of liver transplant ranges between 20-25 lakhs in India. This is roughly one-tenth of what it would cost in other western countries. 

Liver transplant is definitely a top-notch solution for patients with end-stage acute or chronic liver failure. However, risks may limit the long-term success of liver transplantation. The most common complications include graft failure, bleeding, infection, fluid collection, biliary disorder, arterial and venous thrombosis and stenosis, neoplasms. Early diagnosis is important for these complications to prevent graft failure. Ultrasonography and cross-sectional imaging are said to be the most effective diagnosis.

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