The liver is a vital body organ that filters and eliminates toxic materials from the blood, regulates the supply of various nutrients in the body, and performs a variety of other critical functions. In the case of liver failure or significant liver damage for multiple reasons, a liver transplant may be the only chance of survival for the patient.
Although liver transplantation may be a complex procedure and a treatment that is kept as the last resort for patients suffering from severe liver diseases, the survival rate after successful liver transplantation is quite high. Liver transplant costs may also vary depending on the complexity and many other factors. Life expectancy after liver transplantation is as good as a normal person without comorbidities.
However, it is quite difficult to determine the individual patient’s survival chances after liver transplantation as every patient is unique and there may be multiple factors and complications involved that can affect the survival chances of the patient. In fact, the transplant recipient’s discipline towards the follow-up treatment also directly contributes to the liver transplant success rate.
Here, we discuss what to expect after liver transplant surgery along with the necessary precautions and care to be undertaken to improve the life expectancy after the transplant.
What happens immediately after the liver transplant surgery?
Right after the surgery, the patient is shifted to the intensive care unit and is closely monitored by multiple machines. A ventilator, along with a tube in the trachea to help the patient breathe and bring oxygen to the lungs, is attached until the patient wakes up and can breathe on their own without any difficulty. Several examinations and tests are conducted that may include blood tests, X-ray films, and ECGs. The doctors frequently conduct liver tests to validate the signs that the transplanted liver is accepted by the body and is smoothly functioning. In some cases, the surgeon may also perform a blood transfusion.
What is the recuperation period?
The patients are usually taken to the normal hospital room after 3 to 5 days, once they have regained their senses fully, are able to breathe properly, and other vitals are in place. The average hospital stay for patients after a liver transplant is 2-3 weeks, depending on the patient's recovery. Afterward, they can recuperate at home for 3-6 months and have to follow a strict diet, lifestyle regimen, and take prescribed medication as per their surgeon’s recommendations.
Self-care at home: Road to recovery after liver transplantation
Even after the patient is discharged from the hospital, frequent checkups and consultation may be required to track the recovery progress. The patient may be required to undergo a few blood tests and other examinations every week or so for about 3 months, after which the frequency of the tests may be reduced.
It may take approximately 6 months after the surgery for the person to return to work or do their routine activities. Home care involves building endurance and recovering by taking care of their overall health. Taking immunosuppressive drugs as prescribed is very necessary for the patient. This is because the body treats the new liver as a foreign body and tries to destroy it, which is why immunosuppressants are required to be taken for the entire lifetime to prevent the body from rejecting the new liver. However, these medications also negatively affect the overall immune system of the body, making it necessary for the patient to take care of their health. Patients must follow a disciplined lifestyle and eat a healthy diet as recommended by the doctor.
Diet and nutrition
After the liver transplant, the liver transplant doctors suggest nutrition specialists to patients to help them understand their daily dietary needs after the surgery. Usually, a diet low in salt, fat, and sugar will be recommended. Alcohol consumption damages the liver, and so patients must avoid alcohol intake in any form. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice should also be avoided due to their impact on a group of immunosuppressive medications.
Other lifestyle changes
The dietician and/or the surgeon may also recommend the patient adopt a more active lifestyle to improve overall physical and mental health. Exercise, walking, and other physical activities suggested by the doctor must be sincerely incorporated by the patients to enhance the quality of their lives.
What are the possible complications that may arise after the transplant?
Complications may occur after a liver transplant, as it is a complex surgery with a long period of recovery. The common complications that transplant recipients may experience include transplant rejection, recurrence of liver disease, infections, diabetes, bone thinning, and excessive weight gain, amongst many others. This is why it becomes very important for patients to regularly follow up with their doctors and stick to their prescribed treatment and precautions for the rest of their lives.
Liver transplantation at Medanta
The Living Donor Liver Transplant programme at the Medanta Institute of Liver Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine is the largest in India and the second largest in the world with a team of highly qualified doctors having a rich experience of more than 3600 liver transplants. Committed to a scientific, compassionate, and patient-friendly approach, Medanta ’s liver transplant programme has achieved the highest success rates (95%) and lowest infection rates (10%).