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Erythroblastosis fetalis

Definition

Erythroblastosis fetalis is a potentially life-threatening blood disorder in a fetus or newborn infant. This article provides a general overview. For more detailed information see the specific disorder:

Alternative Names

Hemolytic disease of the newborn

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Erythroblastosis fetalis develops in an unborn infant when the mother and baby have different blood types. The mother produces substances called antibodies that attack the developing baby's red blood cells.

The most common form of erythroblastosis fetalis is ABO incompatibility, which can vary in severity.

The less common form is called Rh incompatibility, which can cause very severe anemia in the baby.

Symptoms

Symptoms in a newborn baby may include:

  • Anemia
  • Edema (swelling under the surface of the skin)
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Hydrops (fluid throughout the body's tissues, including in the spaces containing the lungs, heart, and abdominal organs)
  • Newborn jaundice

Signs and tests

Specific tests depend on the type of erythroblastosis, but may include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Bilirubin level
  • Blood typing

Treatment

After birth, depending on the severity, a transfusion usually needs to be performed.

For specific treatment information, see:

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

The severity of this condition can vary widely. In some instances, the baby has no symptoms of the disease. In other cases, it can lead to death of the baby before or shortly after birth. It can be treated before birth by intrauterine transfusion.

Complications

Complications depend on the specific type of erythroblastosis fetalis.

Calling your health care provider

Prevention

The most severe form of this disease, Rh incompatibility, can be prevented if the mother takes a medicine called RhoGAM at certain times during and after pregnancy. If you have had a baby with this disease, be sure to talk with your doctor if you plan on having another baby.

References

Gruslin AM, Moore TR. Erythroblastosis fetalis. In: Martin R, Fanaroff A, Walsh M, eds. Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 20.

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    Review Date: 12/10/2009

    Review By: Kimberly G. Lee, MD, MSc, IBCLC, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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