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Liver Transplant FAQs
Liver Transplantation FAQ
A liver transplant is recommended for individuals who have serious liver dysfunction and will not be able to live without having the liver replaced. The most common liver disease for which transplants are done is cirrhosis.
Other diseases may include the following:
- Acute hepatic necrosis
- Biliary atresia
- Metabolic disease
- Liver cancers
- Autoimmune hepatitis
Visit the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Web site for statistics of patients awaiting a liver transplant, and the number of patients who underwent a transplant this year.
The majority of livers that are transplanted come from organ donors who have died. These organ donors are adults or children who have become critically ill (often due to an accidental injury) and have died as a result of their illness. If the donor is an adult, he/she may have agreed to be an organ donor before becoming ill. Parents or spouses can also agree to donate a relative's organs. Donors can come from any part of the United States. This type of transplant is called a cadaveric transplant.
An individual receiving a transplant may either get a whole liver, or a segment of one. If an adult liver is available and is an appropriate match for two individuals on the waiting list, the donor liver can be divided into two segments and each part is transplanted. This is more often done in children than adults.
Living family members may also be able to donate a section of their liver. This type of transplant is called a living-related transplant. Individuals receiving a partial liver seem to do as well as those receiving a whole liver. Relatives who donate a portion of their liver can live healthy lives with the segment that remains.
The United Network for Organ Sharing is responsible for transplant organ distribution in the United States. UNOS oversees the allocation of many different types of transplants, including liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung, and cornea.
UNOS receives data from hospitals and medical centers throughout the country regarding adults and children who need organ transplants. The medical team is responsible for sending the data to UNOS, and updating them as your condition changes.
Criteria have been developed to ensure that all people on the waiting list are judged fairly as to the severity of their illness and the urgency of receiving a transplant. Once UNOS receives the data from local hospitals, people waiting for a transplant are placed on a waiting list and given a "status" code. The people in most urgent need of a transplant are placed highest on the status list and are given first priority when a donor liver becomes available.
When a donor organ becomes available, a computer searches all the people on the waiting list for a liver and sets aside those who are not good matches for the available liver. A new list is made from the remaining candidates. The person at the top of the specialized list is considered for the transplant. If he/she is not a good candidate, for whatever reason, the next person is considered, and so forth. Some reasons that people lower on the list might be considered before a person at the top include the size of the donor organ and the distance between the donor and the recipient.
Extensive testing must be done before an individual can be placed on the transplant list.
- Psychological and social evaluation
- Diagnostic tests
- Blood tests are done to gather information that will help determine how urgent it is that an individual is placed on the transplant list, as well as ensure the individual receives a donor organ that is a good match. These tests may include:
- Liver enzymes - elevated levels of liver enzymes can alert physicians to liver damage or injury, since the enzymes leak from the liver into the bloodstream under these circumstances.
- Bilirubin- bilirubin is produced by the liver and is excreted in the bile. Elevated levels of bilirubin often indicate an obstruction of bile flow or a defect in the processing of bile by the liver.
- Albumin, total protein, and globulinbelow-normal levels of proteins made by the liver are associated with many chronic liver disorders.
- Clotting studies, such as prothrombin time (pt) and partial thromboplastin time (ptt)tests that measure the time it takes for blood to clot are often used prior to liver transplantation. Blood clotting requires vitamin k and proteins made by the liver. Liver cell damage and bile obstruction can both interfere with proper blood clotting.
Other blood tests will help improve the chances that the donor organ will not be rejected. They may include:
- Your blood type: each person has a specific blood type: type A+, A -, B+, B -, AB+. AB -, O+, or O -. When receiving a transfusion, the blood received must be a compatible type with an individual's type of blood or an allergic reaction will occur. The same allergic reaction will occur if the blood contained within a donor organ enters an individual's body during a transplant.
- Viral studies: these tests determine if you have viruses that may increase the likelihood of infecting the donor organ, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Diagnostic tests may include any of the tests that have been done to evaluate the extent of the disease, including the following:
Abdominal ultrasound (Also called sonography.) - a diagnostic imaging technique which uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function, and to assess blood flow through various vessels.
Liver biopsy - a procedure in which tissue samples from the liver are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope.
There is no definite answer to this question. Sometimes, individuals wait only a few days or weeks before receiving a donor organ. If no living-related donor is available, it may take months or years on the waiting list before a suitable donor organ is available. Unfortunately, some people die before an acceptable donor organ can be found.
Each transplant team has their own specific guidelines regarding waiting on the transplant list and being notified when a donor organ is available. In most instances, you will notified by phone or pager that an organ is available. You will be told to come to the hospital immediately so you can be prepared for the transplant.
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