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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 For The First Time? Here’s What You Need To Know

In South Africa, blood stocks are critically low. June 14 is World Blood Donor Day is a call to all South Africans to donate blood to help save lives. Here’s what you need to know about what to do before, during and after donating blood.

We know that donating blood for the first time can make you feel uneasy, nervous or even scared. We’re here to provide all the information you need to make this process easier and to create awareness about this incredible cause.

As per results in May 2023, the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) had an average of 4.9 days bloodstock of B+ and 2.8 days of O+ blood available. The SANBS needs to maintain a bloodstock level of 5 days for each blood group to ensure sustained blood availability for patients in need. Read more about the different blood types and what they mean here.

Do I qualify for blood donation?

The universal access to safe blood is the lifeline for the healthcare system of any nation. Note: you can check your blood pressure levels as well as your haemoglobin levels at most pharmacies.

The minimum requirements for blood donation as per the SANBS are the following:

  • You need to be between the ages of 16 and 75 years old, for first time donors.
  • You need to weigh a minimum of 50 kgs (and platelets a minimum of 55 kgs)
  • You are in good health (refrain from donating if you are HIV+ or if you are being treated for an STI).
  • You lead a low risk lifestyle (high-risk lifestyles includes having sex with multiple partners / or having sex with someone who has sex with multiple partners as well as injecting yourself with drugs).
  • You consider your blood safe for transfusion.
  • You have not donated blood in the last 56 days (and platelets in the last 14 days.)
  • Your pulse is between 60-100 regular beats per minute.
  • Your blood pressure is below 180 systolic (first number) and below 100 diastolic (second number) (180/100mmHg) and above 100 systolic (first number) and above 60 diastolic(second number) (100/60mmHg).
  • Your haemoglobin level is 12.g for females and 13.g for males/dL or above.

What happens during the donation process?

If you meet the minimum criteria above you are able to apply to donate blood. Before going into a centre, make sure that you have eaten a well-balanced, iron-rich meal (for a list of iron-rich foods and meal options, click here) within four hours and consumed adequate water. The donation process takes around 30 minutes.

Here’s what to expect:

  • You will be required to complete a Donor Questionnaire.
  • This is followed by a one-on-one interview with the nurse who goes through the questions to ensure that the questions are understood and that the donor understands the importance of being honest on the questionnaire.
  • Your blood pressure and haemoglobin (iron) levels are checked. (The checking of your iron level is done with a small prick to your finger.)
  • If your levels meet the requirements, you proceed to donating, where you move to a chair for the donation. A cuff is placed on your arm to maintain a small amount of pressure.
  • Once a suitable vein is located and your skin has been cleaned, a needle will be inserted into your arm to collect the blood via a new, sterilised needle.
  • 450ml of blood is collected (this takes between five and 10 minutes).
  • An additional 3 small vials of blood are collected with your blood bag for testing.

Post donation, it’s important to increase your fluid intake for four to six hours and to avoid any strenuous or physical exercise for two hours post-donation. It is also advised not to smoke for at least 30 minutes after donation.

You can find a list of blood donations venues here: https://sanbs.org.za/donor-centres/.

For any information or questions, contact your medical doctor.

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