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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Rh Incompatibility?

Rh incompatibility doesn't cause signs or symptoms in a pregnant woman. In a baby, the condition can lead to hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia is a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them.

Red blood cells contain hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin), an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen to the body. Without enough red blood cells and hemoglobin, the baby won't get enough oxygen.

Hemolytic anemia can cause mild to severe signs and symptoms in a newborn, such as jaundice and a buildup of fluid.

Jaundice is a yellowish color of the skin and whites of the eyes. When red blood cells die, they release hemoglobin into the blood. The hemoglobin is broken down into a compound called bilirubin. This compound gives the skin and eyes a yellowish color. High levels of bilirubin can lead to brain damage in the baby.

The buildup of fluid is a result of heart failure. Without enough hemoglobin-carrying red blood cells, the baby's heart has to work harder to move oxygen-rich blood through the body. This stress can lead to heart failure.

Heart failure can cause fluid to build up in many parts of the body. When this occurs in a fetus or newborn, the condition is called hydrops fetalis (HI-drops fe-TAL-is).

Severe hemolytic anemia can be fatal to a newborn at the time of birth or shortly after.

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January 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.