Pregnancy Issues: Erythroblastosis Fetalis or Hemolytic Disease

  • hemolytic comes from two words: hemo (blood) and lysis (destruction) or breaking down of red blood cells
  • erythroblastosis refers to the making of immature red blood cells
  • fetalis refers to the fetus

Note: For purpose of this web site, this page will concentrate on the less common form of erythroblastosis fetalis.

Basic information:

Erythroblastosis fetalis develops in an unborn infant when the mom and the baby have different blood types. The mother produces substances called antibodies that attack the developing baby's red blood cells. The most common form of erythroblastosis fetalis is ABO incompatibility, which can vary in its severity.

The most severe but less common form of this disease, Rh incompatibility, can be prevented if the mother takes a medicine called RhoGAM at certain times during and after pregnancy. If you have had a baby with this disease, be sure to talk with your doctor if you plan on having another baby.

Complications, treatment, and Prevention:

In cases in which incompatibility is not identified before birth, the baby suffers recognizable characteristic symptoms such as anemia, hyperbilirubinemia, and hydrops fetalis. The blood incompatibility is uncovered through blood tests such as the Coombs test, which measures the level of maternal antibodies attached to the baby's red blood cells. Other blood tests reveal anemia, abnormal blood counts, and high levels of bilirubin.

Erythroblastosis is a very serious condition. In about 15% of cases, the unborn child is severely affected and results in stillbirth. Babies who survive pregnancy may develop kernicterus, which can lead to deafness, speech problems, cerebral palsy, or mental retardation. Extended hydrops fetalis can inhibit lung growth and contribute to heart failure. These serious complications are life threatening, but with good medical treatment, the fatality rate is very low.

In many cases of blood type incompatibility, the symptoms of erythroblastosis fetalis are prevented with careful monitoring and blood type screening. treatment of minor symptoms is typically successful and the baby will not suffer long-term problems.

Checklist to ensure RH compatibility:

  • ♦Accurate Blood Test
  • ♦Rhogam shot at 28 weeks gestation and again within 72 hours of birth
  • ♦Follow your intuition. If you feel your blood test is not correct, you may ask your doctor to do another one and send it through a different lab.

For more detailed information, please check out the reference listed below.


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