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Liver Transplant (cont.)

Self-Care at Home

Home care involves building up endurance to carry out daily life activities and recovering to the level of health that the patient had before surgery. This can be a long, slow process that includes simple activities. Walking may require assistance at first. Coughing and deep breathing are very important to help the lungs stay healthy and to prevent pneumonia. Diet may at first consist of ice chips, then clear liquids, and, finally, solids. It is important to eat well-balanced meals with all food groups. After about 3-6 months, a person may return to work if he or she feels ready and it is approved by the primary transplant doctor.

Preventing rejection: Home care also involves taking several medications to help the liver survive and to prevent the patient's own body from rejecting the new liver. A person with a new liver must take medications for the rest of his or her life. The immune system works to protect the body from invading bacteria, viruses, and foreign organisms.

Unfortunately, the body cannot determine that the newly transplanted liver serves a helpful purpose. It simply recognizes it as something foreign and tries to destroy it. In rejection, the body's immune system attempts to destroy the newly transplanted liver. Without the intervention of immunosuppressive drugs, the patient's body would reject the newly transplanted liver. Although the medications used to prevent rejection act specifically to prevent the new liver from being destroyed, they also have a general weakening effect on the immune system. This is why transplant patients are more likely to get certain infections. To prevent infections, the patient must also take preventive medications. There are 2 general types of rejection, as follows:

  • Immediate, or hyperacute, rejection occurs just after surgery, when the body immediately recognizes the liver as foreign and attempts to destroy it. Acute rejection occurs in about 2% of patients.
  • Acute rejection usually occurs in the first two months after transplant and is usually treatable with medication adjustments. About 15% of patients have at least one acute rejection episode.
  • Delayed, or chronic, rejection can occur years after surgery, when the body attacks the new liver over time and gradually reduces its function. This occurs in 2-5% of patients.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/24/2014
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