Long-term outcomes of emergency liver transplantation for acute liver failure

Liver Transpl. 2009 Dec;15(12):1696-702. doi: 10.1002/lt.21931.


Acute liver failure continues to be associated with a high mortality rate, and emergency liver transplantation is often the only life-saving treatment. The short-term outcomes are decidedly worse in comparison with those for nonurgent cases, whereas the long-term results have not been reported as extensively. We report our center's experience with urgent liver transplantation, long-term survival, and major complications. From 1994 to 2007, 60 patients had emergency liver transplantation for acute liver failure. The waiting list mortality rate was 6%. The mean waiting time was 2.7 days. Post-transplantation, the perioperative mortality rate was 15%, and complications included neurological problems (13%), biliary problems (10%), and hepatic artery thrombosis (5%). The 5- and 10-year patient survival rates were 76% and 69%, respectively, and the graft survival rates were 65% and 59%. Recipients of blood group-incompatible grafts had an 83% retransplantation rate. Univariate analysis by Cox regression analysis found that cerebral edema and extended criteria donor grafts were associated with worse long-term survival. Severe cerebral edema on a computed tomography scan pre-transplant was associated with either early mortality or permanent neurological deficits. The keys to long-term success and continued progress in urgent liver transplantation are the use of good-quality whole grafts and a short waiting list time, both of which depend on access to a sufficient pool of organ donors. Severe preoperative cerebral edema should be a relative contraindication to transplantation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Edema / complications
  • Contraindications
  • Emergency Treatment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Liver Failure, Acute / etiology
  • Liver Failure, Acute / mortality
  • Liver Failure, Acute / surgery*
  • Liver Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Liver Transplantation* / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Patient Selection
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Survivors* / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Donors / supply & distribution
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Waiting Lists
  • Young Adult