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HomeMedical Information Quality MedicineBlood Group – What Is It And Does It Matter?

Blood Group – What Is It And Does It Matter?

By: Dr Farina Leong
Blood Group – What Is It And Does It Matter?

This month, countries around the world celebrated the WHO World Blood Donor Day on June 14th. The event serves to celebrate people from all walks of life who voluntarily donate their life-saving gift of blood and to raise awareness about the continuing need for regular blood donations to ensure the quality, safety and availability of blood and blood products. Most people have heard of the ABO blood group system and being Rhesus positive or negative, but are blood groups important? In this article, we will look at what a blood group is and its significance.

What Is Blood?

Every adult has approximately 5 litres of blood circulating in their arteries and veins. There are many components of blood held in liquid called plasma. These include:

  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body to vital organs and tissues whilst removing carbon dioxide, transporting it to your lungs for you to exhale
  • White blood cells that form an integral part of the body’s defence system
  • Platelets that help blood to clot

On the surface of red blood cells, there are molecules known as antigens (usually a protein or carbohydrate) and it is the expression of these antigens that forms the basis of blood group systems.


ABO Blood Group Classification

The most commonly recognised blood group classification systems are the ABO system (possible blood groups being A, B, AB or O) and the Rhesus system.  If you are blood group A, this means you have A antigens on the surface of your red blood cells but anti-B antibodies in your plasma.  If you are blood group AB, you have both A and B antigens on the surface of your red blood cells and no antibodies in your plasma. Your body ignores your own antigens but will produce antibodies to attack foreign antigens, so giving group B blood to someone who is blood group A could be fatal.  People with type O blood have no antigens on the surface of their blood cells but both anti-A and anti-B antibodies in their plasma.

Compatibility of Blood Types


Other Blood Group Systems

The ABO and Rhesus systems are the most relevant when it comes to compatibility for blood transfusion.  However, there are currently over thirty-six blood group systems recognised by the International Society for Blood Transfusion, with over 300 known variants. The Rhesus system actually includes over 45 different antigens but the one that people are most familiar with is Rhesus D (RhD) positivity or negativity. This means that an individual whose blood group is O+ is blood group O and RhD positive. 


Blood Type And Illness

Various diseases and conditions have been linked to different blood groups but the implications of these associations are unclear. For example, gastric cancers appear to be more prevalent in group A individuals, and breast and pancreatic cancers appear to be more common in those who are of non O blood types (A, B or AB). Nonetheless, it is important to be mindful that these findings are associative, not causative, and that the underlying causes of most diseases and cancers are multifactorial. In an era of evolving personalised medicine, blood group may yet play a role in risk factor scoring or as a prognostic indicator in the future. However, the results from current studies evaluating the prognostic value of ABO antigens in various cancers are conflicting.



What determines your blood group?

Blood group is inherited from your parents in the same way that other genetic traits are.


How do I find out my blood group?

You can find out your blood group by conducting a routine blood test. This is usually done when you donate blood or prior to having a transfusion or major surgery.  Blood group is also checked in many countries as part of routine antenatal care. This is because there are potentially serious complications if a mother has Rhesus negative blood but the baby has inherited Rhesus positive blood from the father. In general, blood group from the donor is matched to the recipient prior to transfusion. However, if the recipient is found to have any antibodies, more extensive screening and matching is usually undertaken.


Why is the WHO World Blood Donor Day held on June 14th?

The 14th of June holds special significance as it marks the birthday of Karl Landsteiner, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the ABO blood group system and published his research in 1901.


What are the most common and rarest blood groups?

This varies according to country and region, but type O is the most common blood group worldwide and the rarest is AB. 


We encourage you to donate blood and find out your blood type.  

Remember, only 3% of the population of each country needs to donate blood in order to avoid transfusion shortages. Each donation can help save the lives of three or more patients!

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