Overview

A liver transplant is a surgical procedure that removes a liver that no longer functions properly (liver failure) and replaces it with a healthy liver from a living or deceased donor.

Your liver is your largest internal organ and performs several critical functions, including:

  • Removing bacteria and toxins from the blood
  • Preventing infection and regulating immune responses
  • Processing nutrients, medications and hormones
  • Producing bile, which helps the body absorb fats, cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins
  • Making proteins that help the blood clot

Liver transplant is usually reserved as a treatment option for people who have significant complications due to end-stage chronic liver disease. In rare cases, sudden failure of a previously normal liver may occur.

The number of people waiting for a liver transplant greatly exceeds the number of available deceased-donor livers.

The human liver regenerates and returns to its normal size shortly after surgical removal of part of the organ. This makes living-donor liver transplant an alternative to waiting for a deceased-donor liver to become available.

In 2014, about 7,200 liver transplants were performed in the U.S. among both adults and children. Of those, about 330 involved livers from living donors. At the same time, nearly 15,000 people were registered on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

Mayo Clinic’s approach