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Liver Transplant
Recovery

After surgery, you will go directly to the intensive care unit (ICU), usually for one or two days. Immediately after surgery, a breathing tube will be inserted to help you breathe. In most cases the tube can be removed within 24 hours after surgery. Many monitoring lines also will be attached; these, too, will be removed as you become more stable. When you are ready to leave the ICU, you will be cared for on the 14th floor of the hospital if you're an adult. Children are cared for on the sixth or seventh floor. Everyone recuperates from liver transplantation differently. Depending on your condition, you will be hospitalized for two to eight weeks following the transplant.

After the Hospital

After you are discharged from the hospital, you will be seen in the liver transplant clinic at least once a week for the first month. As you improve, you will be seen less often; eventually, you will be seen once a year.

If you are not from the San Francisco area, you probably will need to stay close by for the first month after discharge. After that, your doctor or a specialist near your home will provide follow-up care. Laboratory blood tests are obtained twice a week following transplantation. Gradually, the frequency of blood tests will be reduced.

You will be notified about any adjustments in your medications. Complications can occur with any surgery. Patients undergoing organ transplantation may face additional complications. The life-threatening disease that created the need for your transplant may affect the functioning of other body systems. Other risks, such as rejection, also may occur.

Some possible transplant complications and medication side effects include:

  • Hemorrhage — One function of the liver is to manufacture clotting factors. When a liver fails, the ability to produce clotting factors is impaired. To correct this problem, you will receive blood products before and after surgery. It is expected that your new liver will start working very quickly to help prevent any excessive bleeding, but it is possible that you may be returned to surgery to control the bleeding, particularly if it occurs within the first 48 hours after transplant.
  • Thrombosis — This is a serious complication that may require a second transplant. If a blood clot forms in a vessel leading to or from your liver, this may injure your new liver. You will receive special anticoagulation medication to prevent thrombosis.
  • Rejection — Your body's defense system, the immune system, protects you from invading organisms. Unfortunately, it also views your new liver as foreign and will try to destroy it in an attempt to protect you. This is known as rejection. To prevent this from occurring, you will be given special immunosuppressive medication that must be taken for the rest of your life. Rejection can be diagnosed early by performing weekly liver biopsies during the first few weeks after liver transplant. Although rejection is common, with early diagnosis and treatment the situation can be controlled in more than 95 percent of cases.
  • Recurrent disease — Many liver diseases may come back after your transplant. Hepatitis C is the most common disease that can reoccur following a liver transplant. Your doctors will discuss this further with you.

Preventing Rejection

Immunosuppressive medications help to prevent and treat rejection. These drugs decrease your body's resistance to foreign bodies, such as your new liver. You will need to take these medications for the rest of your life or you will reject your liver. Immediately after surgery, the dosages will be high since the probability of rejection is greatest at this time. Dosages will be lowered quickly to smaller amounts if there are no signs of rejection.

The medications have side effects, which are usually dose-related. Most people experience the highest level of side effects in the beginning when medication dosages are high. As the dosage is lowered, these effects will probably lessen. Side effects may occur in some patients and not in others.

The medications you will take for rejection also impair your body's ability to fight off infections. You will be given medication to help prevent infections but you also will need to use caution and avoid contact with people with infections, especially during the first three to six months after transplant.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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Organ Transplant

Liver Transplant Program
400 Parnassus Ave., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-1888
Fax: (415) 353-8917
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