Complications of rhesus disease

Althoughrhesus diseaseis rare and most cases are successfully treated, there aresome risks to both unborn and newborn babies.

Unborn babies

If rhesus disease causes severe anaemia in an unborn baby, it can lead to:

  • foetal Heart failure
  • fluid retention and swelling (foetal hydrops)
  • stillbirth

Blood transfusions givento ababy in the womb (intrauterine transfusions [IUT]), can beused to treat anaemia in an unborn baby. However, this treatment also carries some risks of complications. It can lead to an early labour thatbegins before the 37th week of pregnancy and there's a 2% risk of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Newborn babies

Rhesus disease causes a build up of excessive amounts of a substance called bilirubin. Without prompt treatment, a build-up of bilirubin in the brain can lead to a neurological condition called kernicterus. This can lead to deafness , blindness , brain damage, learning difficulties or even death.

Treatment for rhesus disease is usually effective in reducing bilirubin levels in the blood, so these complications are uncommon.

Blood transfusions

The risk of developing an infection from the blood used in blood transfusions is low, because all the blood is carefully screened. The blood used will also be matched to the babys blood type, so the likelihood of your baby having an adverse reaction to the donated blood is also low.

However, there may be a problem with the transfusion itself. For example, the tube (catheter) used to deliver the bloodcan become dislodged, causing heavy bleeding (haemorrhage) or a blood clot .

Generally, the risks associated with blood transfusions aresmall and don't outweigh the benefits of treating a baby with anaemia.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016