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Blood Type Test

Blood Type Test



A blood type test determines to which of the major blood groups an individual’s blood belongs. Blood typing categorizes blood by identifying the presence or absence of particular substances on the surface of the red blood cell. The substances are called “antigens,” and may be molecules of protein, carbohydrate, glycolipid, or glycoprotein.

Although there are a large number (perhaps as many as 690) of blood group systems that can identify unique attributes of antigens on red blood cells, two are commonly used and seem to be the most clinically relevant. These are the ABO blood group system and the Rhesus or Rh blood group system. These two blood group systems are the most well known, well-defined, and also the most important as regards known reactions to situations involving blood transfusions.

Blood typing is particularly important when an individual needs to receive a blood transfusion. If the wrong blood type is given, there is a high risk of an adverse transfusion reaction. The recipient’s immune system will recognize the antigen on the donor blood as foreign, and will being to produce antibodies directed against that antigen. The antibodies will attack the donor blood, damaging and bursting the donor red blood cells. This results in high serum levels of hemoglobin spilling from the burst red blood cells (called hemoglobinemia), disseminated intravascular coagulation or DIC (a condition in which clotting factors are used up very rapidly, resulting in the potential for severe, uncontrollable bleeding), kidney failure, and eventually complete cardiovascular collapse(a combination of heart attack, shock, and lack of blood flow to all major organs and tissues).

The Rh system identifies the presence (denoted as positive) or absence (denoted as negative) of another type of antigen termed the Rhesus antigen, because it was first identified on the red blood cell surfaces of Rhesus monkeys. The major blood type, then, is reported as a combination of the ABO and Rh blood group system; for example, A-positive, or A-negative, etc.

Knowing a pregnant woman’s Rh-factor is crucial because there is always a chance during pregnancy, labor, and delivery that some of the baby’s blood will get into the mother’s bloodstream. If this happens in an Rh-negative mother with an Rh-positive baby, the mother’s body will identify the baby’s Rh-negative blood as foreign and begin producing antibodies against the Rh-factor. This is called Rh-sensitization. The first time this sensitization occurs between a mother and her baby, the baby usually doesn’t suffer any ill-effects. But in subsequent pregnancies, if the mother is again carrying an Rh-positive baby, having already been exposed to the Rh-antigen previously, her body will begin to produce Rh-antibodies more quickly and in greater numbers. If these cross over into the baby’s bloodstream, they can begin destroying the baby’s red blood cells, resulting in severe illness. This problem is referred to as Rh disease, hemolytic disease of the newborn, or erythroblastosis fetalis. In order to avoid this problem, Rh testing is done prior to pregnancy or early in pregnancy. Rh-negative women can be given a special shot called Rh-immune globulin which can prevent Rh-sensitization.


Blood typing is ordered prior to a blood transfusion, to make sure that the donor blood type is appropriately compatible with the recipient’s blood type. It is also done on donor blood, on a donor who is giving an organ to be used for transplantation, as well as prior to surgery (so that the patient’s blood type is known, should the individual needs an unexpected, emergency blood transfusion). Rh-typing is also important in pregnant women. When the mother and the baby have different Rh-types, there is a risk to the baby of illness caused by the mother’s antibodies; if the mother is identified as having Rh-negative


Disseminated intravascular dissemination— A condition in which the clotting factors in the blood are rapidly used up, resulting in a severe deficit in clotting factors and a very high risk of severe, uncontrollable bleeding.

Erythroblastosis fetalis— A condition in which the incompatability between a mother’s Rh-negative blood type and a baby’s Rh-positive blood type results in destruction of the baby’s red blood cells by maternal antibodies.

blood, a shot called Rh-immune globulin can prevent the problem from developing.


Some situations may confuse the results of blootyping, including a recent x-ray test using contrast, us of medications such as methyldopa, levodopa, and certain antibiotics (including cephalexin). Other factors that may confuse test results include having received a blood transfusion in the previous three months, having had a bone marrow transplant in the past, or having a history of cancer or leukemia.


This test requires blood to be drawn from a vein (usually one in the forearm), generally by a nurse or phlebotomist (an individual who has been trained to draw blood). A tourniquet is applied to the arm above the area where the needle stick will be performed. The site of the needle stick is cleaned with antiseptic, and the needle is inserted. The blood is collected in vacuum tubes. After collection, the needle is withdrawn, and pressure is kept on the blood draw site to stop any bleeding and decrease bruising. A bandage is then applied.


There are no restrictions on diet or physical activity, either before or after the blood test.


As with any blood tests, discomfort, bruising, and/or a very small amount of bleeding is common at the puncture site. Immediately after the needle is withdrawn, it is helpful to put pressure on the puncture site until the bleeding has stopped. This decreases the chance of significant bruising. Warm packs may relieve minor discomfort. Some individuals may feel briefly woozy after a blood test, and they should be encouraged to lie down and rest until they feel better.


Basic blood tests, such as blood typing, do not carry any significant risks, other than slight bruising and the chance of brief dizziness.


The ABO blood group system identifies a type of protein antigen on the red blood cell surface. The types of blood types within this system include type A, type B, type AB, and type O:

  • People with type A blood have the A antigen on their red blood cell surface; they produce antibodies that can destroy B-type antigens. They can only safely receive either types A or O blood in transfusion.
  • People with type B blood have the B antigen on their red blood cell surface; they produce antibodies that can destroy A-type antigens. They can only safely receive either types B or O blood in transfusion.
  • People with type AB blood have both A and B antigens on their red blood cell surface; they do not produce any antibodies against A or B antigens. Type AB individuals have both types of major antigens present on their red blood cells, therefore they can safely receive any of the blood types (A, B, or O) in a transfusion without the risk of producing antibodies against the donor blood types. People with type AB blood are sometimes called “universal recipients.”
  • People with type O blood have neither A nor B antigens on their red blood cell surface, and they produce antibodies against both A and B antigens. Type O blood is sometimes called the “universal donor” type because it displays no antigens on its red blood cell surface and can be transfused into people with types A, B, or AB blood without causing adverse effects; however, people with type O blood can only safely receive type O blood in a transfusion.

The most common ABO blood type in the United States is type O; the most common Rh factor in the United States is positive. Distribution of blood types in the United States is as follows:

  • 45% type O, of which 38% are O-positive and 7% are O-negative
  • 40% type A, of which 34% are A-positive and 6% are A-negative
  • 11% type B, of which 3% are B-positive and 1% are B-negative
  • 4% type AB, of which 3% are AB-positive and 1% are AB-negative



Goldman L., D. Ausiello, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine, 23rd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2007.

Hoffman R., et al. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice, 4th ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2004.

McPherson R. A., and M. R. Pincus, eds. Henry’s Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods, 21st ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2006.


Medical Encyclopedia. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. January 2, 2008. (February 10, 2008).


American Association for Clinical Chemistry, 1850 K Street, NW, Suite 625, Washington, DC, 20006, (800) 892-1400,

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, M.D.

Blood typing seeType and screen

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