What is a Liver Transplant?

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A liver transplant is the treatment of choice for patients with a severe and irreversible liver or bile duct disease. 

The procedure involves a surgical operation to replace the diseased liver with a healthy one. The purpose of a liver transplant is to try and increase the survival time and quality of life of people affected by an advanced case of liver or bile duct disease when all other medical and surgical treatment options have been exhausted.

Types of liver transplant


Orthotopic whole liver transplant. This is the most common type of transplant. It involves removing the diseased liver from the patient and implanting a whole liver taken from a deceased donor in exactly the same anatomical position.

Hígado, trozo, trasplante hígado parcial

Partial orthotopic liver transplant. A partial liver transplant consists of removing the diseased liver and implanting a fragment of healthy donor liver in its place (right or left lobes). This procedure is performed in the case of living-donor or split liver transplantations. Approximately 2 months after the transplant the implanted fragment of liver will have regenerated and recovered its full size and total function. 

The main advantage of living-donor transplants over deceased-donor transplants is patients do not need to wait for a compatible cadaver donor to become available. However, this type of transplant can imply a series of disadvantages for the living donor which must be taken into account (occurrence of complications and even risk of death, which is currently less than 0.3%).

Which diseases may require a liver transplant?

Even though a liver transplant theoretically corresponds to the treatment of choice for all patients with a severe and irreversible liver or bile duct disease, it is the hepatologist who will decide whether or not a transplant is indicated. Generally, the diseases that most often require a transplant are: chronic cholestatic diseases (primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, biliary atresia (only affects children));cirrhosis of non-biliary origin hepatitis B and C-related cirrhosis, alcoholic cirrhosis, autoimmune cirrhosis, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), cryptogenic cirrhosis); liver tumours (hepatocellular carcinoma); acute liver failure (severe viral hepatitis, severe toxic/drug-induced hepatitis, acute liver failure of unknown origin); metabolic diseases (haemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, tyrosinaemia, glucogenesis) and other diseases (Budd–Chiari syndrome, Caroli’s disease).

Substantiated information by:

Constantino Fondevila Campo
Eva López Benages
Miquel A. Navasa Anadon
Raquel García Muñoz

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018


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