Did You Know Your Liver Can Regenerate? What Makes it So Unique?

World Liver Day: Liver is the only organ in your body that can regrow. Be an organ donor, save lives.

3 min read
Hindi Female

The liver is perhaps the most unique human organ. While in most organs, damaged tissue is replaced by a scar, the liver just replaces damaged tissue with new cells.

This capacity of the liver makes it a viable option for living donor transplants.

On World Liver Day, I’ll be breaking down facts and myths about liver transplants.

A liver transplant involves replacement of patient's diseased liver by a new liver, which is derived either from a brain dead but heart beating donor i.e. a cadaver or from a living donor. Liver from a cadaver is a full complete liver while that from the living donor is a half or hemi liver.

Liver is a unique organ in human body and has a special capacity of regeneration. It has been seen that even 75% of liver can be safely removed without any untoward consequences because of this capacity of regeneration.

The remaining liver rapidly grows and restores the full functional capacity required for the normal functioning of the body. Owing to this unique property, a part of the healthy liver can be safely removed from a voluntary donor and can be utilized to replace a diseased liver in a patient. All this, without causing any harm to either the donor or the patient.

Who Needs a Liver Transplant?

Patients of liver cirrhosis with End Stage Liver Failure require a liver transplant. If you have liver cancer or acute liver failure, you may also require a transplant.

Now, if you’ve had progressive or persistent jaundice, abdominal distension, altered mental functions or sensorium, decreased urine output or renal failure, easy bruising, or you are passing black coloured stool, all these are signs of potential liver failure. Patients of liver cirrhosis with any of these need to meet a specialist.

Unhealthy lifestyle and eating, obesity, abuse of alcohol, drugs etc can put you at risk of a damaged liver. Viruses such as hepatitis A, B and C can also damage the liver.

Who Can Donate Their Liver?

World Liver Day: Liver is the only organ in your body that can regrow. Be an organ donor, save lives.
One in three persons affected with blood-borne viral hepatitis-B and C in India are at a risk of developing liver cancer, yet most of them are not aware of their infection
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Any person above the age of 18 years can legally donate a part of his liver. In India, as per Human Organ Act 1996, liver donation is restricted to family members (brother, sister, father, mother, son daughter) or close relatives (Uncle, aunt, cousin, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandparents).

Medically the liver donor should have a compatible blood group (Same blood group as patient or O group), should not be more than 55 years of age and should be medically fit and psychologically sound. All voluntary liver donors are evaluated thoroughly to look for medical and surgical fitness.

The success rate of liver transplant worldwide is around 85-90%. Most patients lead a normal, healthy and productive life following a liver transplant.

It’s important to note however, that individual outcome depends on patient factors like cause of the disease, degree of liver failure, patient's general condition etc. and cannot be generalized.

Be a Donor, Save Lives

There were 1200 liver transplants done in 2014 alone. But donors are essential to saving lives.

A donor can usually be discharged within 10 days and patients within 2-3 weeks' time. Donor can resume his normal activity within 3-4 weeks and resume his job within 6 weeks' time and patients within 4-6 months. No special precautions are needed for donor after about 4-6 weeks and he lives a normal life thereafter.

Now if you are a recipient, you will need life- long immunosuppressive medication. Take special care to prevent infections. There are no specific dietary restrictions however consumption of raw vegetables (uncooked food) in salad and peel less fruit (apples, grapes) has to be avoided.

According to the World Health Organisation, liver disease is the 10th most common cause of death in India. Eat healthy, incorporate a lot of healthy food groups, eat foods that have a lot of fibre and exercise regularly to keep your liver healthy.

(The author is a Director,at the Dept of Liver Transplant at Fortis Hospital, Noida)

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