Patients awaiting transplant commonly have questions regarding there MELD score, and how this number is determined. As you can imagine, there is great anxiety in patients awaiting transplant. At almost every clinic visit, patients are asking for they’re updated score. In my own practice, at every visit we calculate the new score and discussed this result with them. The MELD score, which we have been using for the past several years, is calculated by taking the patient’s most recent bilirubin, creatinine, and INR, which is then entered into the computer and calculated. Theoretically, the MELD score can arrange in values between 5 and 40. It has generally been accepted that patients with a MELD score less than 15 have a better survival is not transplanted. Those with scores over 15 should be considered for transplant. The higher the MELD score, the more ill the patient is, with a greater likelihood of not surviving. In the greater Houston area, most of the transplant programs, including ours at the Methodist Hospital, are transplanting patients with MELD score is greater than 25.
There are certain exceptions to the MELD score. Many of these are developed regionally. With patients who develop hepatocellular carcinoma, in most cases, they will receive a MELD exception of 22 points, even if they have a lower calculated score as described above. It’s been well established that patients with liver cancer should be transplanted quickly. This MELD exception allows this to take place. If after 3 months the patient is not transplanted, additional points are granted. Other MELD exceptions for pulmonary hypertension, refractory gastrointestinal bleeding, and refractory ascites are also allowed. These are given on a case by case basis after a regional review by other transplant centers. Not every exception is granted, and this could be another source of anxiety for patients and their family.
Looking at the bilirubin, creatinine, and INR, you could see that as the patient becomes more ill, their MELD score will reflect a higher value. It is very difficult to sit with the patient who has a low MELD score, who happens to feel very ill, and tells him that they must continue to get even more debilitated before a transplant is performed. While the current allocations system works for the vast majority of patients, there are always going to be those patients that have a MELD score that does not accurately represent how sick they are. For these patients, this is where most of the anxiety and concern is present. The best that we can do as physicians and other healthcare providers is to reassure them and worked very closely with them. I personally have been involved in liver transplantation for over 20 years, and the same issues we faced 20 years ago, despite a different allocations system, remained today.
To calculate your own MELD score, I have listed a link below. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me or post your comments on this blog for others to see and learn from. You can always reach me at Liver Specialists of Texas at 713-794-07 00.