The International Society of Blood Transfusion currently recognizes 30 blood group systems (including the ABO and Rh systems).[2] Thus, in addition to the ABO antigens and Rhesus antigens, many other antigens are expressed on the RBC surface membrane.

For example, an individual can be AB RhD positive, and at the same time M and N positive (MNS system), K positive (Kell system), Lea or Leb negative (Lewis system), and so on, being positive or negative for each blood group system antigen. Many of the blood group systems were named after the patients in whom the corresponding antibodies were initially encountered.


Transfusion medicine is a specialized branch of hematology that is concerned with the study of blood groups, along with the work of a blood bank to provide a transfusion service for blood and other blood products. Across the world, blood products must be prescribed by a medical doctor (licensed physician or surgeon) in a similar way as medicines. In the USA, blood products are tightly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Much of the routine work of a blood bank involves testing blood from both donors and recipients to ensure that every individual recipient is given blood that is compatible and is as safe as possible. If a unit of incompatible blood is transfused between a donor and recipient, a severe acute immunological reaction, hemolysis (RBC destruction), renal failure and shock are likely to occur, and death is a possibility. Antibodies can be highly active and can attack RBCs and bind components of the complement system to cause massive hemolysis of the transfused blood.

Patients should ideally receive their own blood or type-specific blood products to minimize the chance of a transfusion reaction. Risks can be further reduced by cross-matching blood, but this may be skipped when blood is required for an emergency.

 Cross-matching involves mixing a sample of the recipient's serum with a sample of the donor's red blood cells and checking if the mixture agglutinates, or forms clumps. If agglutination is not obvious by direct vision, blood bank technicians usually check for agglutination with a microscope. If agglutination occurs, that particular donor's blood cannot be transfused to that particular recipient.

The blood group may be included on identification tags or on tattoos worn by military personnel, in case they should need an emergency blood transfusion. Frontline German Waffen-SS had blood group tattoos during World War II.

Rare blood types can cause supply problems for blood banks and hospitals. For example Duffy-negative blood occurs much more frequently in people of African origin,[38] and the rarity of this blood type in the rest of the population can result in a shortage of Duffy-negative blood for patients of African ethnicity. Similarly for RhD negative people, there is a risk associated with travelling to parts of the world where supplies of RhD negative blood are rare, particularly East Asia, where blood services may endeavor to encourage Westerners to donate blood.[39]


A pregnant woman can make IgG blood group antibodies if her fetus has a blood group antigen that she does not have. This can happen if some of the fetus' blood cells pass into the mother's blood circulation (e.g. a small fetomaternal hemorrhage at the time of childbirth or obstetric intervention), or sometimes after a therapeutic blood transfusion.

This can cause Rh disease or other forms of hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) in the current pregnancy and/or subsequent pregnancies. If a pregnant woman is known to have anti-RhD antibodies, the RhD blood type of a fetus can be tested by analysis of fetal DNA in maternal plasma to assess the risk to the fetus of Rh disease.[40] One of the major advances of twentieth century medicine was to prevent this disease by stopping the formation of Anti-RhD antibodies by RhD negative mothers with an injectable medication called Rho(D) immune globulin.[41][42] Antibodies associated with some blood groups can cause severe HDN, others can only cause mild HDN and others are not known to cause HDN.[3]


In order to provide maximum benefit from each blood donation and to extend shelf-life, blood banks fractionate some whole blood into several products. The most common of these products are packed RBCs, plasma, platelets, cryoprecipitate, and fresh frozen plasma (FFP). FFP is quick-frozen to retain the labile clotting factors V and VIII, which are usually administered to patients who have a potentially fatal clotting problem caused by a condition such as advanced liver disease, overdose of anticoagulant, or disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).
Units of packed red cells are made by removing as much of the plasma as possible from whole blood units.
Clotting factors synthesized by modern recombinant methods are now in routine clinical use for hemophilia, as the risks of infection transmission that occur with pooled blood products are avoided.


Blood group AB individuals have both A and B antigens on the surface of their RBCs, and their blood serum does not contain any antibodies against either A or B antigen. Therefore, an individual with type AB blood can receive blood from any group (with AB being preferable), but can donate blood only to another type AB individual.

Blood group A individuals have the A antigen on the surface of their RBCs, and blood serum containing IgM antibodies against the B antigen. Therefore, a group A individual can receive blood only from individuals of groups A or O (with A being preferable), and can donate blood to individuals with type A or AB.

Blood group B individuals have the B antigen on the surface of their RBCs, and blood serum containing IgM antibodies against the A antigen. Therefore, a group B individual can receive blood only from individuals of groups B or O (with B being preferable), and can donate blood to individuals with type B or AB.

Blood group O (or blood group zero in some countries) individuals do not have either A or B antigens on the surface of their RBCs, but their blood serum contains IgM anti-A antibodies and anti-B antibodies against the A and B blood group antigens. Therefore, a group O individual can receive blood only from a group O individual, but can donate blood to individuals of any ABO blood group (ie A, B, O or AB). If anyone needs a blood transfusion in a dire emergency, and if the time taken to process the recipient's blood would cause a detrimental delay, O Negative blood can be issued.


Recipients can receive plasma of the same blood group, but otherwise the donor-recipient compatibility for blood plasma is the converse of that of RBCs: plasma extracted from type AB blood can be transfused to individuals of any blood group; individuals of blood group O can receive plasma from any blood group; and type O plasma can be used only by type O recipients.
Plasma compatibility table

Table note1. Assumes absence of strong atypical antibodies in donor plasma
Rhesus D antibodies are uncommon, so generally neither RhD negative nor RhD positive blood contain anti-RhD antibodies. If a potential donor is found to have anti-RhD antibodies or any strong atypical blood group antibody by antibody screening in the blood bank, they would not be accepted as a donor (or in some blood banks the blood would be drawn but the product would need to be appropriately labeled); therefore, donor blood plasma issued by a blood bank can be selected to be free of RhD antibodies and free of other atypical antibodies, and such donor plasma issued from a blood bank would be suitable for a recipient who may be RhD positive or RhD negative, as long as blood plasma and the recipient are ABO compatible.


With regard to transfusions of whole blood or packed red blood cells, individuals with type O negative blood are often called universal donors, and those with type AB positive blood are called universal recipients; however, these terms are only generally true with respect to possible reactions of the recipient's anti-A and anti-B antibodies to transfused red blood cells, and also possible sensitization to RhD antigens. Exceptions include individuals with hh antigen system (also known as the Bombay blood group) who can only receive blood safely from other hh donors, because they form antibodies against the H substance.[45][46]

Blood donors with particularly strong anti-A, anti-B or any atypical blood group antibody are excluded from blood donation. The possible reactions of anti-A and anti-B antibodies present in the transfused blood to the recipients RBCs need not be considered, because a relatively small volume of plasma containing antibodies is transfused.

By way of example; considering the transfusion of O RhD negative blood (universal donor blood) into a recipient of blood group A RhD positive, an immune reaction between the recipient's anti-B antibodies and the transfused RBCs is not anticipated. However, the relatively small amount of plasma in the transfused blood contains anti-A antibodies, which could react with the A antigens on the surface of the recipients RBCs, but a significant reaction is unlikely because of the dilution factors. Rhesus D sensitization is not anticipated.

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