FIND OUT NOW: ALL THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT RHESUS FACTOR (Rh) INCOMPATIBILITY
Are you a dad or mum and it has never occurred to you to check the Rhesus Factor of your kids? Maybe you are about to get married or you know someone who is falling deeply in love with that cute person and the word Rhesus incompatibility sounds like an alien language?
Rhesus factor is a vital topic you should know, just like the way you can tell the left from your right hand, to avoid telling stories that touch from yourself or your family/relatives/colleagues.
In addition to the emphasis laid on genotypes which are the AA, AS, AC, SS, and SC, do you know to be aware of the Rhesus Factor of your blood group is just as important to prevent issues like Rhesus Incompatibility and childlessness? Yeah, it’s that serious.
Blood group includes the O, AB, B, and A (find out more about blood groups here) Every human has a blood group that either comes with a positive (+) or a negative (-) e.g. O+, O-. The (+/-) is the Rhesus factor that will be explained to you in a very simple and understandable manner.
So take your pen to jot things down as we bring all there is to know about the Rhesus Factor to light.
WHAT IS THE RHESUS FACTOR?
Rhesus Factor (Rh) is a form of protein found on the outer part of red blood cells. The protein is passed down from your parents i.e. genetically. If you have the protein on your red blood cells, it means your blood group carries a positive sign e.g. AB(+).
If you did not get the protein, it means your blood group carries the negative sign e.g. AB(-). If you do not know your blood group Rhesus, now would be the time to find out.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT?
People with the Rhesus on their Red Blood Cells are more than people who don’t have it. A study suggests that 85% of people in the world have the positive (+) sign on their blood group, you could fall among those with the negative (-) sign.
This protein does not in any way disturb your overall health, but it is very important to know your Rh status if you intend to have kids.
Rh factor can cause issues during pregnancy if you as a woman is Rh-Negative and your Spouse is Rh-Positive.
If a woman, who is Rh-Negative, marries a man that is Rh-Positive, it results in what is called Rhesus Incompatibility.
WHAT IS RHESUS INCOMPATIBILITY?
Rhesus Incompatibility happens when a woman who is Rh-Negative blood type becomes pregnant with a baby with Rh-positive blood type. With Rh incompatibility, the woman’s immune system responds and produces Rhesus antibodies.
These antibodies cause the immune system to attack the baby while it is in the womb, which the mother’s body now sees as a foreign object that must be eliminated.
HOW ARE THESE ANTIBODIES PRODUCED?
The antibodies are produced if a woman that is Rh-Negative:
- Has been transfused with blood that is Rh-Positive.
- Had early pregnancy complications such as miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies
- Has done an abortion or abortions in the past
- Had or has Injury to the stomach area during pregnancy
- Bled during pregnancy
- Did tests that require cells or fluids to be withdrawn from a pregnant woman (like amniocentesis and chorus villus sampling)
- Delivered a baby for the first time (either vaginal or cesarean)
These scenarios mentioned above are ways by which blood cells from Rh-Positive blood or your baby can enter your bloodstream. It takes time for the body to produce antibodies, so firstborn children commonly aren’t affected.
However, if a mother became sensitized because of scenarios as listed above, her first live birth may be affected by Rh incompatibility.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF RHESUS INCOMPATIBILITY?
Rhesus Incompatibility affects unborn babies and the effect ranges from mild to life-threatening. When antibodies attack your baby’s red blood cells, a disease called Haemolysis can occur. This means your baby’s red blood cells are being broken down at a faster and dangerous rate.
When your baby’s healthy red blood cells are broken down, a pigment called bilirubin will build up in their bloodstream.
Bilirubin is a substance that’s produced from the breakdown of red blood cells. Too much bilirubin in your baby is a sign that the liver, which is in charge of processing old blood cells, is suffering.
Your baby may have one or more of the following warning signs if the bilirubin level is high after birth:
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Lethargy (a state of abnormal drowsiness)
- High pitched cry
- Does not feed well
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO TREAT RHESUS INCOMPATIBILITY?
Management of Rhesus Incompatibility centers on preventing the effects. In mild cases, the baby can be treated after birth with:
- Several blood transfusions
- Electrolytes, which are essential elements that normalize metabolism
- Fluid therapy
- Phototherapy (involves keeping your baby near fluorescent lights to help reduce the bilirubin in their blood).
These processes may be repeated until the Rh-Negative antibodies and excess bilirubin have been removed from your baby’s blood. Whether it must be repeated depends on the severity of your baby’s condition.
WHAT IF YOU’RE ALREADY PREGNANT?
If you’re pregnant, do not panic. When you begin ante-natal and the doctor or midwife determines that you’ve already developed antibodies against your baby, your pregnancy will be closely monitored.
You can prevent the effects of Rhesus Incompatibility by getting an injection of Rh immune globulins (RhoGAM) during the first three months of your pregnancy, during a miscarriage, or while having any bleeding during your pregnancy.
This blood product contains antibodies to the Rh factor. If your baby has Rh-positive blood, you should get a second injection within72 hours after you give birth.
In very rare and serious cases, a series of special blood transfusions can be performed while your baby is in your uterus or after delivery.
ARE THERE ANY COMPLICATIONS?
In cases where the effects of Rhesus incompatibility are not prevented, it can result in severe complications which may include:
- Damage to the baby’s brain, which is known as kernicterus
- Swelling in the baby
- Poor mental functioning, movement, hearing, and speech
- Heart failure
- Death of the baby can also occur.
Although women are the ones at risk of Rhesus Incompatibility, it can be equally debilitating and expensive if you as a man/father/spouse do not consider it to be important to know that your wife/future spouse/daughter could have trouble with pregnancy in the nearest future.
It is vital that you know your Rhesus Factor, even as a man because children usually inherit the Rhesus Factor of their father.
Let’s go over a little recap.
Since more people are Rh-Positive than Rh-Negative, it is likely that Rh-Negative mothers could be carrying a baby who is Rh-Positive, creating the risk for hemolytic disease of a newborn (HDN) in future pregnancies, essentially destroying that baby’s Red Blood Cells.
If a woman is Rh-Negative, she will most likely receive a RhoGAM injection.
When a woman receives RhoGAM, it protects her immune system from exposure to the current baby’s Rh-Positive blood.
If she does not receive the injection, her body will develop antibodies that could attack the Red Blood Cells of babies in subsequent pregnancies, which will cause the Haemolytic Disease.
Haemolysis can cause serious illnesses, brain damage or even death in a fetus or newborn.
Pregnant women typically receive RhoGAM twice during their pregnancy: once at approximately 28 weeks and once within 72 hours of delivery.
Finding out your Rhesus Factor is very cheap, you can go to a trusted laboratory center to get tested.
Neglecting your blood group Rhesus can be very costly financially and emotionally.