What is the Rh Factor?
Rh (Rhesus) is a protein. It is found on the surface of red blood cells in nearly 85 percent of the population. Individuals with this protein are said to be Rh positive. Individuals who do not have this protein are said to be Rh negative.
Expectant mothers are given a test to determine their Rh factor. If the mother is Rh negative, and the child is Rh positive, the mother and child are Rh incompatible. If a mother and child are Rh incompatible, the mother’s immune system may produce antibodies against her baby’s blood.
What Happens If I Am Rh Negative?
If you test Rh negative, your doctor will have you take a test which will detect if you have Rh antibodies. This test is generally performed around the 28th week of pregnancy.
If the antibody test is negative, expectant mothers are generally given an injection of Rh immunoglobulin. The Rh immunoglobulin is injected into a muscle. The injection will keep the mother from forming antibodies against her baby's blood. A dose of the Rh immunoglobulin is usually given after the birth of a Rh positive baby, as well.
If antibodies are detected in the test, you will be given further tests throughout your pregnancy to monitor the level of antibodies you are producing. Steps will be taken to protect your health, and the health of the baby, as needed.
In some situations, a blood test may need to be taken on the baby. Blood tests can be taken on a baby while he or she is still in the uterus. This blood is taken from the umbilical cord. Tests on the blood will alert physicians as to the baby’s health and if he or she is in need of a blood transfusion.
If you do have a high amount of antibodies in your blood and it is detected during your second (or later) pregnancy, you may have to undergo an amniocentesis. An amniocentesis is a procedure in which a small sample of amniotic fluid is drawn out of the uterus through a needle inserted in the abdomen. This is necessary to analyze the amniotic fluid for bilirubin. Bilirubin will be present in large amounts if the fetus is anemic due to the destruction of his or her red blood cells.
Symptoms of Rh Incompatibility
Some of the most common symptoms of Rh incompatibility are:
Rh Negative Complications
Possible complications include neurological syndrome with mental deficiency, movement disorder, hearing loss, speech disorder, and seizures. However, complications are becoming rare since the introduction of Rh immunoglobulin. This is one reason why it is important to seek early prenatal care.
If you're not sure what your Rh factor is and think you are pregnant, it's important to start regular prenatal care as soon as possible. With early detection and treatment of Rh incompatibility, the risk of complications will decrease. Women who are Rh negative will probably need an injection of Rh immunoglobulin even after a miscarriage or an abortion.
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