Facts About Blood and Blood Groups

Facts About Blood and Blood Groups
13.01.2024

Blood groups

There are 4 main blood groups (types of blood) – A, B, AB and O. Your blood group is determined by the genes you inherit from your parents.

Each group can be either RhD positive or RhD negative, which means in total there are 8 blood groups.

Antibodies and antigens

Blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in a liquid called plasma. Your blood group is identified by antibodies and antigens in the blood.

Antibodies are proteins found in plasma. They’re part of your body’s natural defences. They recognise foreign substances, such as germs, and alert your immune system, which destroys them.

Antigens are protein molecules found on the surface of red blood cells.

The ABO system

There are 4 main blood groups defined by the ABO system:

  • blood group A – has A antigens on the red blood cells with anti-B antibodies in the plasma
  • blood group B – has B antigens with anti-A antibodies in the plasma
  • blood group O – has no antigens, but both anti-A and anti-B antibodies in the plasma
  • blood group AB – has both A and B antigens, but no antibodies

Blood group O is the most common blood group. Almost half of the UK population (around 48%) has blood group O.

Receiving blood from the wrong ABO group can be life-threatening. For example, if someone with group B blood is given group A blood, their anti-A antibodies will attack the group A cells.

This is why group A blood must never be given to someone who has group B blood and vice versa.

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As group O red blood cells do not have any A or B antigens, it can safely be given to any other group.

The Rh system

Red blood cells sometimes have another antigen, a protein known as the RhD antigen. If this is present, your blood group is RhD positive. If it’s absent, your blood group is RhD negative.

This means you can be 1 of 8 blood groups:

  • A RhD positive (A+)
  • A RhD negative (A-)
  • B RhD positive (B+)
  • B RhD negative (B-)
  • O RhD positive (O+)
  • O RhD negative (O-)
  • AB RhD positive (AB+)
  • AB RhD negative (AB-)

About 85% of the UK population is RhD positive (35% of the population has O+, the most common type).

In most cases, O RhD negative blood (O-) can safely be given to anyone. It’s often used in medical emergencies when the blood type is not immediately known.

It’s safe for most recipients because it does not have any A, B or RhD antigens on the surface of the cells, and is compatible with every other ABO and RhD blood group.

Blood Transfusion

There are very specific ways in which blood types must be matched for a safe transfusion. The right blood transfusion can mean the difference between life and death. Use the interactive graphic below to learn more about matching blood types for transfusions.

Also, Rh-negative blood is given to Rh-negative patients, and Rh-positive or Rh-negative blood may be given to Rh-positive patients. The rules for plasma are the reverse. 
 

  • The universal red cell donor has Type O negative blood.
  • The universal plasma donor has Type AB blood.
  • Group O can donate red blood cells to anybody. It’s the universal donor.
  • Group AB can donate to other AB’s but can receive from all others.
  • Group B can donate red blood cells to B’s and AB’s.
  • Group A can donate red blood cells to A’s and AB’s.
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There are more than 600 other known antigens, the presence or absence of which creates “rare blood types.”  Certain blood types are unique to specific ethnic or racial groups. That’s why an African-American blood donation may be the best hope for the needs of patients with sickle cell disease, many of whom are of African descent.

What Is A Universal Blood Donor?

Universal donors are those with an O negative blood type.  Why?  O negative blood can be used in transfusions for any blood type.  

Type O is routinely in short supply and in high demand by hospitals – both because it is the most common blood type and because type O negative blood is the universal blood type needed for emergency transfusions and for immune deficient infants.

Approximately 45 percent of Caucasians are type O (positive or negative), but 51 percent of African-Americans and 57 percent of Hispanics are type O. Minority and diverse populations, therefore, play a critical role in meeting the constant need for blood.

Types O negative and O positive are in high demand.  Only 7% of the population are O negative. However, the need for O negative blood is the highest because it is used most often during emergencies. The need for O+ is high because it is the most frequently occurring blood type (37% of the population).

The universal red cell donor has Type O negative blood. The universal plasma donor has Type AB blood. For more about plasma donation, visit the plasma donation facts.

How Is My Blood Type Determined?

It’s inherited. Like eye color, blood type is passed genetically from your parents. Whether your blood group is type A, B, AB or O is based on the blood types of your mother and father.

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