Definition & Facts of Liver Transplant

In this section:

What is a liver transplant?

A liver transplant is surgery to remove your diseased or injured liver and replace it with a healthy liver from another person, called a donor. If your liver stops working properly, called liver failure, a liver transplant can save your life.

A healthy liver on the left and a diseased liver on the right.
A liver transplant removes your diseased or injured liver (right) and replaces it with a healthy liver (left).

How common are liver transplants?

In 2015, about 7,100 liver transplants were performed in the United States. Of these, almost 600 were performed in patients 17 years of age and younger.1

When do people need a liver transplant?

People need a liver transplant when their liver fails due to disease or injury.

For adults in the United States, the most common reasons for needing a liver transplant in 2016 were1

Biliary atresia is the most common reason children need a liver transplant.1

Doctors may consider a liver transplant to treat rare disorders such as urea cycle disorders and familial hypercholesterolemia.

People may also need a liver transplant due to acute liver failure. Acute liver failure is an uncommon condition most often caused by taking too much acetaminophen.2 Other causes of acute liver failure include

What are the types of liver transplant?

Deceased donor transplants

Most livers for transplants come from people who have just died, called deceased donors. During a deceased donor transplant, surgeons remove your diseased or injured liver and replace it with the deceased donor’s liver. Adults typically receive the entire liver from a deceased donor. However, surgeons may split a deceased donor’s liver into two parts. The larger part may go to an adult, and the smaller part may go to a smaller adult or child.

Living donor transplants

Sometimes a healthy living person will donate part of his or her liver, most often to a family member who is recommended for a liver transplant. This type of donor is called a living donor. During a living donor transplant, surgeons remove a part of the living donor’s healthy liver. Surgeons remove your diseased or injured liver and replace it with the part from the living donor. The living donor’s liver grows back to normal size soon after the surgery. The part of the liver that you receive also grows to normal size. Living donor transplants are less common than deceased donor transplants.

What are the survival rates after a liver transplant?

For patients receiving liver transplants from deceased donors, the survival rates are1

  • 86 percent at 1 year
  • 78 percent at 3 years
  • 72 percent at 5 years

The 20-year survival rate is about 53 percent.3

Your chances of a successful liver transplant and long-term survival depend on your personal situation.


Last Reviewed March 2017
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.

The NIDDK would like to thank:
Michael R. Lucey, M.D., University of Wisconsin–Madison