Red Cell Antibodies

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Why do I need to know?
If you come into hospital and you may need a blood transfusion, we need to test your blood. In addition to your blood group, we also test for the presence of red cell antibodies in your blood. We need to know whether you are likely to react to any blood that we give you. By checking your blood beforehand, we can choose the right units of blood for you.

What are red cell antibodies?
Antibodies are your body’s natural defence against anything which is different from yourself. They are part of the body’s immune system and protect you against harmful infections. Antibodies can be present naturally or may be made against blood cells that are different to your own. If you are exposed to different blood cells by pregnancy or from a transfusion, your immune system may make antibodies to “antigens” present on those different blood cells. Most patients do not have detectable red blood cell antibodies in their blood, but for the few who do, it is safer to know what they are before we offer you a transfusion.

What happens if I need a blood transfusion? Your doctor or nurse will explain why you need a transfusion and will discuss the risks, benefits and if any alternative treatments are available. It is important that you understand why a transfusion is required and that you have an opportunity to ask any questions. They should offer you a leaflet entitled “Receiving a Blood Transfusion”. If you want to proceed, we do a simple blood test We test for your blood group and look for any red cell antibodies. You may have heard this referred to as a “Group and Save” sample. Once we determine your blood group and identify any blood group antibodies you may have, we record them on your laboratory record. If you then need a blood transfusion, we use that information to match your blood with a donor unit we have in our stock. If we do not have a suitable match, we can order special units from the national blood bank, NHSBT. Once we have some blood suitable for you, we do a test in the laboratory that mixes your blood sample with the donor blood to double check the suitability. We then label the blood with all your details so the clinical team know that that blood has been chosen for you. They collect the blood from the blood fridge and check that all the details on the bag of blood match your wristband prior to giving you the transfusion.

By knowing about any red cell antibodies beforehand, the blood bank is able to quickly provide you with the best match for a successful and trouble-free transfusion. We also keep your records for many years so if you come in again, we can check your previous results. We do this to ensure you have the safest blood transfusion possible. If you do have any clinically significant antibodies, we will send you a card to keep in your wallet in case you need to go to another hospital for emergency treatment.