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What Are The Different Blood Types And What Do They Mean

Here we break down what the different blood types are and what they mean for donating purposes.

Why do we have different blood types?

The blood group you belong to depends on what you have inherited from your parents. According to the South African National Blood Service (SANBS), currently there are more than 20 blood group systems that exist, but the AB0 and Rh blood group systems are the most important ones used for blood transfusions.

The differences in human blood are due to the presence or absence of certain protein molecules called antigens and antibodies. The antigens are located on the red blood cells and the antibodies are in the blood plasma. Individuals have different types and combinations of these molecules.

Not all blood groups are compatible. Mixing incompatible blood leads to clumping or agglutination, which is very dangerous for individuals.

What are the different blood types and what do they mean?

All donors belong to one of four blood groups: A, B, AB or O. You are also classified as either Rh+ or Rh-.

A person with Rh- blood does not have Rh antibodies naturally in the blood plasma. But a person with Rh- blood can develop Rh antibodies in the blood plasma if he or she receives blood from a person with Rh+ blood. A person with Rh+ blood can receive blood from a person with Rh- blood without any problems.

There are therefore eight different main blood groups, ie: A+, A-, B+. B- and so on.

Not all blood groups are compatible with each other and the success of modern transfusion medicine depends on classifying and matching donors and patients correctly.

The South African government states that O+ is the most commonly found blood type in SA and that the rarest is AB-. Blood type O is also universal, which means it can be given to all the other blood types. Currently South Africa is experiencing a critically short supply of blood type O. While we have a greater stock of B+, this blood can only be given to B and AB blood types.

Visit RedCross.org for interactive graphs on how compatibility works.

June 14 is World Blood Donor Day. Click here to do a quick quiz and find out more about how you can save 3 lives with one donation.

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Donating Blood VS Donating Plasma

What’s the difference between donating blood and plasma and how does this impact your donating choices and requirements? Read more to find out.

Similarly to how blood group O is universal for blood donations (read more about the blood groups here), AB plasma is in high demand because it too is universal.

While the requirements for donating blood VS plasma are similar, there are a couple key differences. For example, you can still donate plasma if:

  • you have travelled to or come from a Malaria area
  • you are on anti-platelet medication such as aspirin and anti-inflammatories

 Why is donating plasma important?

For many people with rare diseases and chronic conditions, plasma-based therapies are the only way to treat their condition or disease.

Plasma is also given to trauma patients and burn victims to help with blood clotting and to boost their blood volume, which can prevent and treat shock. For example, 1 200 plasma donations will treat someone with haemophilia for just one year. Read more about haemophilia here.

 What is the process of donating plasma?

You will undergo the normal screening process for blood donation (Read more about that here). Once accepted, a high-tech machine is used to safely and quickly collect your plasma.

The machine separates some of your plasma from the rest of the blood components. The plasma is collected into a bag. The other components of the blood such as red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells are returned to your body.

The plasma collection set is disposable and is used only once. At the end of the procedure some saline (sterile salt water) is infused into your blood to compensate for the around 650ml of plasma collected (the process takes about an hour).

You can find a list of plasma donation centres in South Africa here.

For any information or questions, contact your medical doctor.

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