The liver is a large organ located in the abdomen. The liver has several important jobs that help keep our bodies healthy. It stores energy, makes proteins, fights infections, cleans toxins and alcohol from the blood, and produces bile. Bile is a liquid that is used by the intestines to break down fats into smaller droplets so they can be digested. The body cannot survive without a healthy liver.
Why do people need liver transplants?
There are many diseases and disorders that can damage the liver including birth defects and damage from blood clots. Chronic liver infections such as hepatitis B or C can cause serious liver damage. Drinking large amounts of alcohol or using other drugs can cause scarring if the liver, which is called cirrhosis.
When liver tissue becomes scarred, it loses the ability to function. This can cause a variety of serious health symptoms including:
• Easy bleeding including nosebleeds and bruises under the skin
• Swelling of the belly or legs
• High blood pressure in the veins around the liver
• Enlarged veins in the stomach and the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus)
• Kidney failure
• Extra sensitivity to medications
About 5 percent of people who have cirrhosis of the liver develop liver cancer. When the liver is no longer able to function, a liver transplant may be necessary to save the life of the patient.
The need for liver donations
Patients who need a liver transplant have their names placed on the national waiting list. The average waiting time to get a liver is approximately 796 days, or just over 2 years. When a liver becomes available, doctors from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) try to match the liver with the patient who has the greatest need and who has a matching tissue type. If a liver is transplanted that is not a match for the recipient, the odds are good that the patient’s body will reject the organ and the transplant will fail. Even when the tissue match is good, the recipient will need to take medications to prevent rejection for the rest of his or her life.