Rh Incompatibility - Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Rh Incompatibility

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Are you pregnant and has your doctor advised you the Rh incompatibility test? Or have you recently taken a test and your results have come back with the term ‘Rh incompatibility’ written across?

If you are worried about the entire Rh conversation and want to know more about it, you might want to read our post to the very end.

What Is Rh Incompatibility Definition?

Rh incompatibility is a type of medical condition you develop when you are pregnant. It typically occurs when your blood type is Rh-negative, but your unborn baby has a Rh-positive blood type. As both you and your baby have a different blood type, it causes an incompatibility or Rh incompatibility.

Both the terms Rh positive and Rh negative indicate whether or not your blood has a Rh factor. A Rh factor is a type of protein found in your red blood cells. When you are Rh positive, it means you have Rh factor. In case you are Rh negative, it means you don’t have Rh factor.

Whether or not you have Rh factor does not affect your overall health, but it may cause some complications during pregnancy. In most cases, Rh incompatibility will not cause any problems during your first pregnancy, but can have an effect on your subsequent pregnancies (1).

[ Read: Measures To Follow If You Are Rh Negative ]

Causes Of Rh Incompatibility:

Rh incompatibility occurs when there is a difference in your and your unborn baby’s blood type.

  • When you are pregnant, the blood from your baby has a chance of crossing into your blood stream, especially at the time of delivery. If you are Rh negative while your unborn baby is Rh-positive, your body will mistake your baby’s blood as an outside substance and try to defend itself against it.
  • To keep itself safe, your body will start creating antibodies, known as proteins, to counter your baby’s Rh positive blood. Once your body releases these antibodies, they can cross the placenta and attack your baby’s Rh positive blood. It can lead to hemolytic anemia in your baby, which can cause various heart-related conditions and other health complications (2).
  • Every time you are pregnant, your body will make more Rh antibodies. The antibodies only increase the risk of health conditions related to Rh incompatibility in your baby (3).

[ Read: Rhogam Shot During Pregnancy ]

Symptoms Of Rh Incompatibility:

Rh incompatibility does not cause any symptoms while you are pregnant. However, the baby will feel its effects, mainly in the form of hemolytic anemia. A severe case of hemolytic anemia can be fatal for your baby at the time of birth, or soon after.

In case you and your unborn baby are Rh incompatible, here are some signs you can watch out for:

  • Rh incompatibility can cause hemolytic anemia in your baby. It means that your baby’s red blood cells will be destroyed faster than the body can replace them. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin that transports oxygen to different parts of the body. In case your baby gets affected by hemolytic anemia due to Rh incompatibility, it means your baby will not get the required amount of oxygen.
  • Hemolytic anemia can also cause various symptoms like jaundice or a fluid buildup in your baby’s body. The symptoms could be mild or even severe.
  • In case of jaundice, you will notice a yellowish tint on your baby’s skin and in the whites of your baby’s eyes. When red blood cells are destroyed, they release hemoglobin into the blood, which is further broken down into a compound known as bilirubin. The bilirubin compound gives the yellowish tint to your baby’s skin and eyes. In case your baby has a high level of bilirubin in the body, it could cause brain damage.
  • In case of a fluid buildup in your baby’s body, there is a high risk of heart failure. A decrease in the red blood cells, which help to carry oxygen around your baby’s body will put more pressure on your baby’s heart. Your baby’s heart will have to work extra hard to carry blood to different parts of the body that is higher in its oxygen content. The added stress can cause heart failure in your baby (4).

Diagnosing Rh Incompatibility:

A quick and correct prenatal screening and the right prenatal care can considerably lower your chances or problems associated with Rh incompatibility in pregnancy.

  • Certain screening tests during the start of your pregnancy will help your doctor know whether or not you are at risk of Rh incompatibility.
  • Your doctor will also take into consideration your previous medical records. If you have had an earlier pregnancy, your doctor will also check the medical records for the same.
  • In case your doctor finds out that you are at a risk of Rh incompatibility, he will schedule a regular monitoring of you and your baby’s health through the pregnancy. Your doctor may use various methods and treatment options for the same.
  • Your doctor may recommend an injection known as Rh immune globulin or RhoGam. It will prevent your blood from making any Rh antibodies that may counter your baby’s blood. The injection will also help reduce the problems of Rh incompatibility. If you are Rh-negative, you will have to take this medication each time you conceive a baby who has a Rh-positive type of blood.
  • In some cases, a miscarriage or a blood transfusion can also expose you to blood that is Rh-positive. It is important to get the Rh immune globulin injection or treatment immediately afterward. Doing so will greatly reduce your chances of Rh incompatibility at the time of your next pregnancy (5).

When you are pregnant, it is possible for various complications to come up, but timely intervention can often help. If you are in a subsequent pregnancy, make sure you share all your previous medical history with your doctor. Do you suffer from Rh incompatibility during pregnancy? What steps has your doctor asked you to follow? Have any advice for fellow mommies in the same boat? Leave a comment below.

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