Because of the lack of available livers, it's rarely possible to have a liver transplant as soon as it's needed, so you'll usually be placed on a waiting list.
Depending on the clinical need for a liver transplant, you will be placed either on a high-priority or medium-priority waiting list. Many people are well enough to stay at home until a liver becomes available.
Preparing for a transplant
While waiting for a donated liver to become available, it's important to stay as healthy as possible by:
- eating a healthy diet – read more about healthy eating
- taking regular exercise, if possible – read more about health and fitness
- not drinking alcohol – if you drink alcohol, you'll usually be removed from the waiting list
- not smoking – read more about stopping smoking
The transplant centre will need to be able to contact you at short notice, so you should inform staff if your contact details change. You should also let staff know if your health changes – for example, if you develop an infection.
Prepare an overnight bag and make arrangements with your friends, family and your employer, so that you can go to the transplant centre as soon as a donor liver becomes available.
How long will I have to wait?
The average waiting time for a liver transplant is 145 days for adults and 72 days for children.
However, your waiting time may be a lot shorter if you are on a high-priority waiting list. In some circumstances, you may be able to shorten your waiting time if a relative, or possibly a friend, has the same blood type as you and is willing to take part in a living donor liver transplant.
If your child needs a liver transplant, you may also wish to discuss the possibility of becoming a living donor with staff at the transplant centre.
Read about how liver transplantations are performed for more information on living donations.
Coping with being on the waiting 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 centre 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 directory of support groups. You can also become a member of the HealthUnlocked liver disease community.
When a donor liver does become available, you will usually be referred to the transplant centre closest to where you live.
In England, there are six NHS hospitals with specialist adult liver transplant centres. These hospitals are in:
There are also three children's specialist liver hospitals: