Who is able to have a liver transplant?

A liver transplant is a treatment for selected patients with end-stage liver disease

Key points

  • A liver transplant is a major operation
  • It is a treatment option for some patients with end-stage liver disease
  • Sadly, not all patients with end-stage liver disease are suitable for liver transplantation
  • Your liver doctor and transplant team have to be confident that you are likely to benefit from a liver transplant
  • Other treatments may be better for some patients

Who can have a liver transplant?

A liver transplant is a possible treatment for patients with end-stage liver disease. To be able to have a liver transplant, the benefits of the operation must outweigh the risks.

The following groups of patients may be suitable for a liver transplant:

  • Patients with decompensated cirrhosis (also known as decompensated end-stage liver disease)
  • Patients with compensated cirrhosis who go on the develop hepatocellular cancer in the liver
  • Patients with sudden, acute liver failure who haven’t had long term liver disease

There are also liver diseases where a liver transplant is offered primarily to improve quality of life. This includes:

  • Polycystic liver disease. These patients may require a liver transplant due to liver enlargement and poor quality of life. Associated polycystic kidney disease may require a combined liver and kidney transplant.
  • Liver transplants are sometimes offered to patients with symptoms such as severe itch or confusion (encephalopathy) who are not responding to standard treatments

Learn more about end-stage liver disease

Disadvantages of a liver transplant

A liver transplant has lots of advantages but it also has some disadvantages, which may make it too risky for some patients.

The main disadvantages are:

  • A liver transplant is a major operation lasting 5-8 hours
  • The surgery can place a strain on your organs
  • You have to take powerful immunosuppressant medicines afterwards, which can lead to other serious medical problems.

Learn more about the risks of a liver transplant

Transplant surgery

Reasons why you might not be able to have a liver transplant

Common reasons why a liver transplant may not be the right treatment for you include:

  • You are too ill or frail to cope with the surgery and aftercare
  • You have recently had cancer, a serious infection, a heart attack or a stroke
  • You may struggle taking the immunosuppressant medicines after a liver transplant
  • Some patients experience psychological difficulties afterwards

Other treatment options

For you to be suitable for a liver transplant the benefits must outweigh the risks. If your liver doctor feels a transplant is too risky, they might advise other treatments instead.

Learn about alternative treatments to a liver transplant

More information

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