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What is Liver Dialysis?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Liver dialysis is a process that removes toxins from the liver in order to sustain patients until a liver transplant can be done. Unlike kidney dialysis, which can keep patients alive for months or years, dialysis on the liver is considered a very temporary solution for chronic liver failure. The act of liver filtration can be effective at removing toxins from the liver for several weeks to a few months, however, taking some of the strain off the ailing organ.

Although dialysis treatments are still being developed and improved upon, they have been approved for use in patients with chronic hepatitis C, as well as other severe liver disease. Patients who have to undergo this procedure have generally exhausted all other options other than a liver transplant. The outlook for dialysis patients is fair if a donor is found quickly enough, but it is often difficult to find a donor liver.

Many patients find donors through family. In these cases, only a portion of the donor liver is taken so that both patient and donor can survive the surgery. This is called a live organ donation, and it is made possible because the liver can rejuvenate itself using only a portion of the whole organ. This means that the donated portion will eventually grow into a fully functioning liver, and the donor's remaining organ will do the same. By using live organ donations, many more patients are able to receive new livers in comparison to those who need organs not available through live donors.

There are some long-term side effects of liver dialysis that patients should be aware of before treatment. Infection is one major side effect that can occur with any type of dialysis. Patients should be closely monitored to ensure that any infections that do occur are kept under control.

Other side effects may include weight gain, low blood pressure, iron deficiency, hernia, low blood pressure, and nerve damage. Patients may also experience symptoms like severe depression and anxiety, often as a result of the stress from dealing with a severe illness. Medications may be used to treat these side effects if they become a serious danger to the patient's health. Therapy may also be provided for those with psychological side effects.

While undergoing treatment, patients may be asked to refrain from participating in activities that are harmful to the liver, such as drinking and taking certain medications. In most cases, a liver transplant will not be offered to those who partake in these activities. Dialysis cannot be used as as substitute for a liver transplant.

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Discussion Comments
By anon291347 — On Sep 13, 2012

What condition do you have to be in before you can do liver dialysis? My father isn't eligible for a liver transplant, and I was wondering if dialysis would be able to help with anything? The liver is a magical organ and could start working on its own at any time, so I was wondering if dialysis would or could even prolong a life that doesn't have a new liver coming in. Even though I have wanted to donate part of my liver to him, we couldn't afford the surgery because he doesn't have insurance.

By burcinc — On Apr 19, 2012

@burcidi-- Liver dialysis can last anywhere from four hours to seven hours. It can be completed in one day or in two consecutive days. It really depends on the patient's needs.

I'm not sure about medicines but I do know that people going through liver dialysis need more protein because they lose some protein during dialysis.

Since the liver can't filter out things like sodium, phosphorus and potassium, dialysis patients need to consume as little as possible of these. Otherwise, they will build up in the body and cause problems.

Sodium is especially bad because it makes you drink more water. And more water means that the liver is going to be under a lot of pressure.

By turquoise — On Apr 18, 2012

@burcidi-- I'm very sorry to hear about your cousin. I hope she finds a donor soon.

A liver dialysis machine is very similar to a kidney dialysis machine. The blood from the patient goes through the machine where the albumin is filtered out and is sent back to the patient.

As far as I know, liver dialysis usually takes place once a month, but that depends on the patient. My friend used to have her albumin levels checked every month and went to dialysis whenever the levels came out too high.

The thing about liver dialysis is that you can't really do it forever. It's pretty expensive and very select hospitals have the equipment to do it. It's basically meant to help the patient live until they find a donor. So liver dialysis is not a treatment for liver disease. It's just a temporary remedy so to speak.

By burcidi — On Apr 18, 2012

My cousin said that she will have to start going for livery dialysis. This has been a shocking and sad news for the whole family. We knew she had cirrhosis of the liver due to fatty liver but didn't expect things to go out of hand so quickly.

My grandfather had kidney failure and went for kidney dialysis for several years before he passed away. It was such an exhausting process for him because he had to go to dialysis several times a week and the hospital was an hour away. Each dialysis took about 3-4 hours and he spent the whole day going to dialysis.

The remaining days of the week, he was too tired to do anything. He also had a lot of pain where the dialysis needle was put in repeatedly. He was on a strict diet and had a long list of foods and drinks he couldn't have.

Is liver dialysis as exhaustive as kidney dialysis? I know that patients don't have to go to liver dialysis as often as kidney dialysis but does it also take 3-4 hours to complete? What foods and medicines are strictly forbidden for liver dialysis patients?

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