Liver Transplant Surgery

In this section:

How do I prepare for liver transplant surgery?

How you prepare for liver transplant surgery depends on the type of liver transplant you are having.

  • Deceased donor transplant. If you are on the national waiting list for a deceased donor liver, your transplant team coordinator will call you as soon as a matching liver is found. You must go to the hospital right away. Your transplant team coordinator will tell you what you need to do before going to the hospital.
  • Living donor transplant. If you are receiving a liver from a living donor, you will schedule your surgery 4 to 6 weeks in advance. Your transplant team coordinator will tell you and the donor what you need to do before going to the hospital for the operations.

How do doctors perform liver transplant surgery?

Doctors perform liver transplant surgery by removing your diseased or injured liver and replacing it with the donor’s liver. Liver transplant surgery can take up to 12 hours or longer. During the surgery, the surgical team will

If you are getting a liver from a deceased donor, your surgery will start when the donor liver arrives at the transplant center. If you are getting a liver from a living donor, the surgical team will operate on you and your donor at the same time.

Surgeons with surgical caps, masks, and gowns looking down during surgery.
For liver transplant surgery, surgeons remove your diseased or injured liver and replace it with the donor’s liver.

What are the possible problems of liver transplant surgery?

Possible problems of liver transplant surgery should be discussed with your surgeon. Some possible problems include

What happens after liver transplant surgery?

After your surgery, you will stay in an intensive care unit (ICU). Specially trained doctors and nurses will watch you closely while you’re in the ICU. You’ll begin taking medicines called immunosuppressants to prevent problems with your new liver. The doctors and nurses will perform

  • blood tests often to make sure your new liver is working properly
  • medical tests to make sure your heart, lungs, and kidneys are also working properly

When your doctors feel you are ready, you will move from the ICU to a regular room in the hospital.

Your transplant team will teach you how to take care of yourself before you get home. Transplant team members will give you information on follow-up medical care, the things you need to do to care for your new liver, and possible problems you may have with your new liver.

After a living donor’s surgery, the donor will stay in a recovery room for a few hours and spend his or her first night in an ICU. Specially trained doctors and nurses will watch the donor closely in the ICU. The day after surgery, the donor will usually move to a hospital room. The doctors and nurses will encourage the donor to get out of bed and sit in a chair the day after surgery and to walk short distances as soon as he or she is able.

When can I go home after liver transplant surgery?

You can likely go home about 2 weeks after your transplant surgery. A living donor can typically go home about 1 week after surgery.

When can I go back to my normal activities?

Your doctor will let you know when you can go back to your normal activities. You can likely return to your normal activities after a few months. Most people are able to return to work, be physically active, and have a normal sex life. You will continue to have regular medical checkups to make sure that your liver is working properly and you have no other health problems. Doctors often recommend that women wait at least a year after their transplant before getting pregnant.

Although recovery times vary, most living donors can often return to their normal activities 1 month after surgery and can return to work within 4 to 6 weeks.

Last Reviewed March 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Michael R. Lucey, M.D., University of Wisconsin–Madison