What Is the Rh Factor and Why Is It Important?

The human body is infinitely complex, but fortunately, scientists have pinpointed some of the things that can go awry and how to address them. One problem historically plaguing humans involves an inherited protein known as the Rh factor.

Most people are Rh-positive, but a significant percentage are negative. Fortunately, your status alone won’t make you sick — but it can complicate pregnancy. Let’s look at the Rh factor and why it’s important.

When the Rh Factor Becomes Important

If you never become pregnant or donate blood, you could live the rest of your life without knowing your Rh factor and not encounter a lick of trouble. This protein only causes problems when you attempt to mix Rh-negative and Rh-positive blood.

Those with Rh-negative blood produce antibodies when they encounter Rh-positive blood. This scenario occurs in one of two ways.

1. During Pregnancy

The Rh factor becomes most important during pregnancy. If a mother with Rh-negative blood conceives with an Rh-positive male, the baby can have a different factor than the mother. When this occurs, the mother creates antibodies that attack what it perceives as a foreign blood source.

As a result, more than half of these infants die. Those who survive the severe illness caused by this incompatibility often have significant brain damage.

Fortunately, doctors developed an Rh(D) immunoglobulin therapy, which they administer periodically throughout pregnancy. It prevents the mother from becoming sensitized to her child’s cells, stopping the attack.

Unfortunately, this treatment regimen isn’t always distributed fairly. Globally, only half of women receive proper care. Treatment has mostly eradicated the disease in the United States. However, researchers don’t know how combining the return of stricter abortion laws with the lack of a comprehensive health care system that covers everyone will impact rates. American society may see a resurgence of this condition.

2. During Blood Donations and Transfusions

You’ll also need to know your Rh factor if you donate blood. Fortunately, officials will test your blood and let you know your type if you’re unsure.

Receiving an Rh-positive blood transfusion can cause a reaction if you’re Rh-negative. The transfused red blood cells hemolyze or break open, releasing toxins into the bloodstream. Symptoms include chills, fever, chest and back pain, and nausea. This condition can cause kidney failure and death.

Fortunately, doctors test and retest blood to prevent such injuries. However, accidents occur, and it helps to educate yourself.

Preventing an Rh Incompatible Pregnancy

Fortunately, an Rh-negative mother often has few problems with her first Rh-positive pregnancy as her body hasn’t yet had time to develop sufficient antibody quantities. Trouble arises when she doesn’t receive treatment after her first delivery and becomes pregnant again.

If a woman remains ignorant of her Rh status, she could face tragic results. Babies born with Rh disease often do not survive. The same hemolytic condition that can kill healthy adults who receive the wrong blood transfusion wreak havoc on your baby’s liver, spleen and heart.

Symptoms include yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), pale coloring, a fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, decreased energy, swelling and an enlarged abdomen. These symptoms can also occur in other conditions, so it’s imperative to seek immediate medical treatment for your child to determine the cause.

Even if the baby survives, Rh disease can cause lifelong disability requiring ongoing care. It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of seeking adequate prenatal care, including blood testing. Many states have special Medicaid rules pertaining to pregnant women, and you may qualify for financial assistance even if officials denied you coverage in the past.

What Should You Do if You or Your Partner Are Rh-Negative?

Given the current volatility in the law, it’s more important than ever that you and your partner know your Rh factor status before engaging in sexual activity that could result in pregnancy. The problem is that many doctors don’t routinely screen — but you have free ways to discover your type.

One method is through donating blood. Your donation center will inform you of your blood type, including your Rh factor. You get a positive mental boost by doing a good deed and reap a more valuable benefit than the standard free cookies and juice.

If you and your partner are both Rh-positive or negative, you can wipe your brow in relief. However, the news isn’t dire if you differ. Knowing the issue allows you to take the right steps in seeking prenatal care to prevent Rh disease in your infant.

Determine Your Rh Factor and Stay Safe

Scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of the human body. However, they know how an inherited blood protein, your Rh factor, can cause compatibility issues when mixing blood during pregnancy or transfusions.

Now that you understand what the Rh factor is and why it’s important, take steps to mitigate your risks. You can often discover your status for free and get financial assistance for needed treatment during pregnancy to protect your baby’s health.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 12, 2022

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