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How Is Rh Incompatibility Treated?

Rh incompatibility is treated with a medicine called Rh immune globulin. Treatment for a baby who has hemolytic anemia will vary based on the severity of the condition.

Goals of Treatment

The goals of treating Rh incompatibility are to ensure that your baby is healthy and to lower your risk for the condition in future pregnancies.

Treatment for Rh Incompatibility

If Rh incompatibility is diagnosed during your pregnancy, you'll receive Rh immune globulin in your seventh month of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of delivery.

You also may receive Rh immune globulin if the risk of blood transfer between you and the baby is high (for example, if you've had a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or bleeding during pregnancy).

Rh immune globulin contains Rh antibodies that attach to the Rh-positive blood cells in your blood. When this happens, your body doesn't react to the baby's Rh-positive cells as a foreign substance. As a result, your body doesn't make Rh antibodies. Rh immune globulin must be given at the correct times to work properly.

Once you have formed Rh antibodies, the medicine will no longer help. That's why a woman who has Rh-negative blood must be treated with the medicine with each pregnancy or any other event that allows her blood to mix with Rh-positive blood.

Rh immune globulin is injected into the muscle of your arm or buttock. Side effects may include soreness at the injection site and a slight fever. The medicine also may be injected into a vein.

Treatment for Hemolytic Anemia

Several options are available for treating hemolytic anemia in a baby. In mild cases, no treatment may be needed. If treatment is needed, the baby may be given a medicine called erythropoietin and iron supplements. These treatments can prompt the body to make red blood cells.

If the hemolytic anemia is severe, the baby may get a blood transfusion through the umbilical cord. If the hemolytic anemia is severe and the baby is almost full-term, your doctor may induce labor early. This allows the baby's doctor to begin treatment right away.

A newborn who has severe anemia may be treated with a blood exchange transfusion. The procedure involves slowly removing the newborn's blood and replacing it with fresh blood or plasma from a donor.

Newborns also may be treated with special lights to reduce the amount of bilirubin in their blood. These babies may have jaundice (a yellowish color of the skin and whites of the eyes). High levels of bilirubin cause jaundice.

Reducing the blood's bilirubin level is important because high levels of this compound can cause brain damage. High levels of bilirubin often are seen in babies who have hemolytic anemia. This is because the compound forms when red blood cells break down.

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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.

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