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Blood Type Test

Type O-negative blood does not have any antigens. It is called the "universal donor" type because it is compatible with any blood type. Type AB-positive blood is called the "universal recipient" type because a person who has it can receive blood of any type. Although "universal donor" and "universal recipient" types may be used to classify blood in an emergency, blood type tests are always done to prevent transfusion reactions.

Minor antigens (other than A, B, and Rh) that occur on red blood cells can sometimes also cause problems and so are also checked for a match before giving a blood transfusion.

Serious transfusion reactions are rare today because of blood type tests.

Rh test

Rh blood type checks for the Rh antigen (also called the Rh factor) on red blood cells. If your red blood cells:

  • Have the Rh antigen, your blood is Rh-positive.
  • Do not have the Rh antigen, your blood is Rh-negative.

For example, if you have the A and Rh antigens, your blood type is A-positive (A+). If your blood has the B antigen but not the Rh antigen, your blood type is B-negative (B–).

Rh blood type is especially important for pregnant women. A problem can occur when a woman who has Rh-negative blood becomes pregnant with a baby (fetus) that has Rh-positive blood. This is called Rh incompatibility. If the blood of an Rh-positive baby mixes with the blood of an Rh-negative mother during pregnancy or delivery, the mother's immune system makes antibodies. This antibody response is called Rh sensitization and, depending on when it occurs, can destroy the baby's red blood cells.

Rh sensitization does not generally affect the health of the baby during the pregnancy in which the sensitization occurs. But the health of a baby with Rh-positive blood during a future pregnancy is more likely to be affected. After sensitization has occurred, the baby can develop mild to severe problems (called Rh disease or erythroblastosis fetalis). In rare cases, if Rh disease is not treated, the baby may die.

An Rh test is done in early pregnancy to check a woman's blood type. If she is Rh-negative, she can get a shot of Rh immunoglobulin that almost always prevents sensitization from occurring. Problems from Rh sensitization have become very rare since Rh immunoglobulin was developed.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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