Infographic of the different parts of the liver

What are the symptoms of liver failure?

Signs and symptoms of liver failure can include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Changes in thought or mood, such as confusion or irritability
  • Swollen belly
  • Bleeding tendencies
  • Muscle wasting

Am I eligible for a liver transplant?

If your liver is no longer working well and symptoms are not well-controlled by medication or if you develop a liver or bile duct cancer, your doctor may recommend you undergo a liver transplant. As part of the evaluation process for receiving a transplanted liver, you’ll undergo several tests, including blood tests and imaging. Your doctor will want to make sure you’re healthy enough to undergo surgery for the new liver, and that any donated liver matches your blood type and is the right size for your body.

Liver transplant for liver cancer patients

Optimal treatment for liver cancer involves input from many different specialists, including transplant hepatologists, transplant oncologists, and transplant and hepatobiliary surgeons. The UChicago Medicine Liver Tumor Program brings together specialists from our cancer and digestive disease programs — two programs ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report — and offers personalized care for patients with primary liver cancer as well as bile duct cancer and benign tumors of the liver. Our team has the expertise to determine if patients may benefit from a liver transplant.

What are the two types of liver transplants?

Most livers that are donated come from deceased donors. Before your transplant occurs, the donated liver will be screened for diseases and checked to make sure it’s a match with your blood type. Living donations involve a healthy living person donating part of their liver. Often, this ends up being someone from the patient’s family. When a person donates part of the liver, their remaining liver is able to grow back after the transplant. Your new donated liver will also grow.

How long will I wait on the liver transplant list?

The time to receive a liver varies from person to person. In general, livers are distributed to the sickest individual first, based on the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) Score. The MELD score is calculated based on one’s kidney function, bilirubin and clotting time, with a high score suggesting a sicker condition and hence a higher position on the wait list. Receiving a liver transplant can take time, from months to more than a year (far more people wait for liver transplants than receive them in any given year in the United States).

To begin, your name will be added to the donor waiting list; because the sickest patients are highest on the list, it’s important that your doctor is aware of any changes in your health. Sometimes, a patient may be called to the hospital for an available donor only to learn that the donor isn’t suitable after further examination, or that significant changes to the patient’s health have increased the risk for complications. This may be disappointing, but please remember that your care team has your best interest in mind when decisions are made.

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