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Glossary of Terms

Liver Transplantation Glossary of Terms

Antibodies:  Proteins produced by your white blood cells that help kill foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungus, and other harmful organisms.  Antibodies trigger other white blood cells to destroy these invaders.

Bacteria:  Single celled microorganisms that may cause infection.

Bile:  Brown liquid made in the liver that helps the body digest fat.

Bile Ducts:  Small pathways (like tunnels) within the liver that carry bile into a big duct or passageway called the common bile duct.  The common bile duct is connected to your small intestine and carries bile made in the liver to your small intestine.  In the small intestine, your bile helps to digest fats.

Bilirubin:  A brown pigment (like a dye) that makes your bile and your stool (bowel movements) brown.  Bilirubin comes from old red blood cells that have died.  It is changed in the liver into a form that colors bile and makes stool brown.  When the liver doesn't work the bilirubin is not changed into this form, so the bile and the stool may be pale.  The bilirubin that remains unchanged is reabsorbed into the blood and makes the skin and eyes yellow or jaundiced, and the urine dark.

Cell:  The basic unit making up all living things.  Your body and your new liver are made up of billions cells with many different functions.

Cilia:  Small hairs that line your respiratory passageways and help "sweep" out harmful organisms and particles before they reach your lungs.

CMV:  Cytomegalovirus, a normally harmless virus that lives in the environment and enters most of our bodies by the time we become adults.  We make antibodies to this virus and are not usually affected by it.  However, being immunosuppressed can result in the virus causing infections in the liver (CMV hepatitis) or in other organs of the body.  These CMV infections can be prevented or cured by certain anti viral meds.

Diarrhea:  Watery (formless) bowel movements.  Soft, formed stool is not considered diarrhea.  Diarrhea can indicate infection in your intestines, an allergy or intolerance to something you are eating, or a side effect of some of your medications.

Enzymes:  Proteins made within cells.  Liver enzymes are made inside your liver cells and are known as SGOT (AST), SGPT (ALT) and alkaline phosphatase.  They are released into your bloodstream when rejection or hepatitis occurs and are measured by blood tests. 

Fungi: (singular = fungus) Single celled microorganisms somewhat similar to plant cells.  Fungi can occur as yeasts (oval shaped) or molds (which have branching arms called hyphae) that spread and invade tissue.  Serious fungal infections usually occur soon after transplantation if at all, and often affect the sickest, most debilitated patients.

Immune System:  Made up of white blood cells that protect your body form foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, all of which may cause infections.  The immune system also attacks "foreign" cells of your transplanted liver, which can result in rejection.

Immunosuppressant:  A medication that keeps white blood cells from attacking your liver cells and can prevent or reverse rejection.  You will take immunosuppressants for the rest of your life to prevent rejection.

Infection:  Invasion of any system of your body by organisms that do not belong there, such as certain bacteria, viruses and fungi.  Infection by these organisms may result in activation of your immune system and cause symptoms such as fever and fatigue.  Many symptoms of infection are specific to the area of your body that is affected.

Jaundice:  Yellow color of the skin (and eyes) which occurs when the liver is unable to change bilirubin into the form that can be excreted in the bile and stool.  This bilirubin is reabsorbed by the bloodstream and carried to small blood vessels under the skin where yellow coloring and itching occur.

Liver Function Tests:  Bilirubin, SGOT, SGPT, alkaline phosphatase and LDH.  These blood tests measure proteins or enzymes that, when elevated, can indicate that liver rejection, liver infection or obstruction (blockage) of the bile ducts may be happening.

Opportunistic Infections:  Infections caused by organisms that normally live within our bodies and do not cause disease or sickness in non-immunosuppressed healthy people.  Persons who take anti-rejection medications have weakened immune systems and may become ill from such organisms.  These organisms include CMV (cytomegalovirus) and Pneumocystis jerevici.

Platelets:  Blood cells that help your blood to clot and prevent you from bleeding.

Pneumocystis jerevici:  A protozoan (similar to a bacteria) found in the environment that may live in our lungs without usually causing illness.  However, individuals who take immunosuppressants can develop pneumonia from this organism.

Pneumonia: Infection within the lungs.

Prophylaxis:  A medication or treatment given to prevent a disease or infection before it happens.

Protozoa:  The simplest single celled organism in the animal kingdom.  Pneumocystis jerevici, the organism that can cause pneumonia in transplant recipients, is a protozoan.

Rejection:  Describes the process of your white blood cells attacking "foreign" cells of your transplanted liver and destroying them.  When the liver cells are destroyed, enzymes (proteins) from within the cells enter your bloodstream.  They can be measured by blood tests.  High enzyme levels in the blood may indicate rejection.

Virus:  The smallest known microorganism (smaller than a single cell).  Viruses need to invade your cells in order to multiply.  They cannot reproduce without help from your body's cells.


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