Blood is divided into groups such as A, B, and O and is that is pretty well known. There is also another factor which helps segregate blood groups called the Rh factor.
What Is The Rh Factor?
The Rh factor is a protein present on the surface of red blood cells. It is extremely common in the human population around the world, in fact, almost 85% of the population is considered to be Rh positive, meaning they have the protein.
The Rh factor is inherited genetically from the parents as a dominant gene and so it commonly requires both parents to be Rh negative for the child to also be Rh negative. However, in 25% of cases, when one of the parents is Rh positive and the other negative, the child can also be Rh negative.
In the case of Rh incompatibility, which is when the mother is Rh negative but the child is Rh positive, a number of complications can take place.
Rh Factor Incompatibility
The mother's blood can come into contact with the fetus’s blood, most commonly during childbirth, and this leads to the formation of antibodies against the Rh factor. This means that the mother is now sensitized against the Rh factor.
During the first pregnancy, the sensitization does not become a big issue because the number of antibodies that have developed in the body is not big enough to cause any significant damage. The second pregnancy, however, is much more dangerous because the next time the fetus and the mother’s blood come into contact, the severity of the immune response will be much more pronounced.
To put it simply, the antibodies in the mother’s blood will try and store the red blood cells of the fetus and this can lead to a condition called hemolytic anemia. If this response is left unchecked then it can cause a severe lack of oxygen transporting cells in the fetus. leading to symptoms similar to those seen in asphyxiation.
In extremely severe cases, this reaction can even be fatal to the fetus.
Can Rh Factor Incompatibility Be Treated?
Under normal circumstances, a blood test done during the pregnancy would bring to light the possibility of this reaction occurring. The doctors can then administer something called ‘RhIg’, which will help destroy any antibodies that form inside the mother.
This factor can only be given before the mother is sensitized to the Rh factor and is useless if given afterward.
Is A Second Pregnancy Possible In Case Of Rh Incompatibility?
A second pregnancy comes with increased risks but it is possible to have a successful pregnancy nonetheless. The doctors will take precautions such as regular blood tests to check for anemia in the developing fetus.
If the fetus is found to be suffering from anemia then an early delivery may have to be planned or a transfusion may have to be done even as the fetus resides inside the uterus. If the tests show that the baby does not have severe anemia, a normal delivery will be planned and a transfusion can be then carried afterward to ensure that there is no sign of hemolytic anemia.
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