Most people who need a liver transplant are placed on a waiting list until a suitable liver becomes available.
This is because there are more people who need a transplant than there are donor livers.
If you're well enough, you stay at home while you're on the waiting list. Be prepared to get a call at any time saying that a liver is available and asking you to come into the liver transplant unit.
How long you'll wait for a liver can vary quite a lot. If you need an emergency transplant, you may only have to wait a few days.
The average waiting time for a liver transplant in the UK is:
- 135 days for adults
- 73 days for children
It may be possible to have a transplant sooner if a relative or friend is willing and able to do a living donation (where part of their liver is removed and given to you).
What to do while on the list
While you're on the waiting list, it's important to:
- eat healthily
- exercise regularly, if you can
- avoid smoking
- make sure all your vaccinations are up to date
- have regular dentist check-ups
- use contraception to avoid becoming pregnant
- prepare an overnight bag to take to hospital at short notice
- make arrangements with your friends, family and employer so you can go to the transplant unit as soon as you get the call
Your transplant team will advise you about whether you can drink any alcohol while on the waiting list. Ask your doctor if you can drive, as some liver problems can affect your ability to drive.
Tell the transplant unit if:
- your address or contact details change
- you're planning to go away for a few days
- your health changes – for example, you get an infection
Coping with being on the list
Living with a serious liver condition can be strenuous enough, and the added anxiety of waiting for a liver to become available can make the situation even more difficult.
This can have an effect on both your physical and mental health.
Contact your GP or the transplant unit for advice if you're struggling to cope emotionally with the demands of waiting for a liver transplant.
You may also find it useful to talk to people in the same situation. The British Liver Trust website has a list of support groups. You can also join the HealthUnlocked liver disease community.
What to do when you get the call
When you're contacted:
- make your way to the transplant unit as quickly as you can
- don't eat or drink anything
Sometimes the call may be a false alarm, as tests may later find the liver isn't suitable for transplant. You'll be told as early as possible if this is the case.
If the liver is suitable, you'll have some tests at the transplant unit to check you're well enough for surgery. You'll then be given general anaesthetic and taken into the operating room.