The liver is an organ that places just under your ribcage on the right side of your abdomen. It performs critical functions that include digesting food, removing toxins from the blood, producing bile for the absorption of fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins, preventing infection by regulating immune responses and processing nutrients and hormones. Now you can think about what happens when the liver fails to respond.
A liver transplant is a surgery carried out to replace the liver that no longer functions with the whole or partial healthy liver from a deceased or living person. Liver transplant is your last resort when all medication fails. Medical practitioners recommend surgery when you come to end-stage liver disease.
Here are the symptoms of liver failure:
- Pale eyes and skin/jaundice (Note that paleness can also be the cause of iron deficiency)
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swollen legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine color
- Chronic fatigue
- Pale, bloody, or tar-colored feces
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- A tendency to bruise easily
Causes of Liver failure:
Liver infection: Viruses and parasites can infect the liver reducing its ability to perform functions. They can spread through blood, semen, contaminated food and water, and close contact with an infected person. Hepatitis viruses are the most common types of liver infection.
Immune system disorder: Immune disorder is a result of overactivity or low activity of the immune system. Sometimes the immune system mistakenly damages its own tissues. This is known as an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune liver diseases include primary sclerosing cholangitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, and autoimmune hepatitis.
Genetics: Genes are also responsible to impair the functionality of your liver. If any close relative like your mother, father and grandparents have fallen prey to liver diseases, you are likely to have them inherited.
Cancer: Abnormal growth of bad cells may cause partial or complete damage to your liver. If not controlled by medication, a liver transplant is the only solution.
Other causes: Alcohol abuse, exposure to certain chemicals, body fluids, diabetes, obesity, and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases can also destroy your liver functionality.
Why is a liver transplant done?
Liver transplant is the last method to treat your liver disease when all other procedures fail to ameliorate your condition. It is generally recommended when you have reached the last stage of liver disease. There are two types of liver failure:
- Acute Liver Failure
Acute liver failure is a loss of liver functionality that occurs in days and weeks. It usually happens in those people who have no pre-existing liver disease. However, it is not as common as a chronic liver failure that develops gradually. The significant causes of the disease include overdose of medicines and herbal supplements, viral infections, toxins, autoimmune disease, and cancer. Whereas a patient with chronic liver disease can wait for transplantation for weeks and months, a patient of the acute liver disease needs transplant immediately. Such patients are always kept on the top priority. However, transplant is used as a treatment for chronic liver failure.
- Chronic liver failure
Though the liver has a remarkable ability to repair itself, constant exposure to an injury can damage your liver permanently. The most common cause of chronic liver failure is scarring, also known as cirrhosis. This is a condition when scar tissues start to replace normal tissues and impair the functionality of the liver. Once the scarring reaches the end stage, the liver starts to function abnormally. Medication can reduce the symptoms but cannot cure the disease, hence liver transplant is the only option left.
A liver transplant may also help treat cancer provided it originates in the liver primarily.
How should you prepare for a liver transplant?
Choose a transplant center
The first step is to choose a liver transplant center if you have been recommended to go under surgery. You can choose the center on your own or from your insurance company’s list. Before you finalize the center, you must consider the factors like the type of transplants the center carries out, the transplant survival rates, compare transplant center statistics, know the total cost of surgery, cost of regular checkups and medication post surgery, additional services provided by the center and know the latest technology.
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Once you have chosen your center, you will undergo medical checkups, tests and procedures to determine whether you are healthy enough to have surgery. These tests include but not limited to laboratory test, heart test, psychological evaluation and the like. You are placed on a transplant waiting list only when you have immunity to tolerate surgery and you do not have any medical condition that interferes with surgery.
If a liver of a deceased is available, you will be informed to schedule a surgery date. The operation may take around 12 hours depending on your condition. If you are receiving a liver from a living person, the surgeon will first operate on the donor to take out a portion of the liver and then replace your liver. The surgery may take a very long time in both situations. You should be mentally prepared.
What happens after the procedure?
You will stay in the hospital for a few days. Doctors will not discharge you unless they are sure that the liver is functioning normally. In the beginning, you will have to follow the diet strictly recommended by surgeons. You will have to be abstemious of alcohol. You will have to rely on medication for a few days unless you recuperate and heal internally.
Liver transplant is a very big surgery and recommended under only certain circumstances. Yet, the chances of survival depend on your condition and immunity.