Preemies Need Their Blood Type Checked

Preemies with type AB blood most at risk from necrotizing enterocolitis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Necrotizing enterocolitis is one of the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorders that can affect preterm infants. Identification of a new risk factor may help reduce its prevalence.

Up to 5 percent of preemies suffer from the condition in which intestinal tissue is destroyed and begins to fall off. In cases that are severe, a hole develops in the intestine allowing bacteria to leak into the abdomen, causing a life-threatening infection.

"Don't be shy about asking questions before blood transfusions."

It is most common in preemies born at least eight weeks premature. Preemies with the AB blood type who develop the disorder are nearly three times more likely to die as compared to babies with other blood types.

Dr. Jonathan Muraskas, lead author and co-medical director of Loyola University Health System's neonatal intensive care unit, found that a change in blood transfusion practices in neonatal ICUs could significantly reduce the incidence of the life-threatening condition.

He wrote that while the change would not be likely to eradicate necrotizing enterocolitis, it is easy to modify and may help in preventing cases of the illness that develop in relation to blood transfusions.

Researchers reviewed the records of 276 premature babies in Loyola's neonatal ICU who suffered from severe necrotizing enterocolitis during the last 24 years. They discovered that preemies with type AB blood were significantly more likely to die than babies who had other blood types.

Premature babies often require multiple blood transfusions. Most neonatal ICUs opt to give them Type O, the universal blood type, but this could be inadvertently causing an enhanced immune reaction. This may be why preemies with this blood type are more likely to die after contracting a severe form of the condition.

Dr. Muraskas suggests changing the transfusion policy to ensure that premature babies instead receive their specific blood types, which could help improve survival rates.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Perinatology.

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Review Date: 
November 30, 2011
Last Updated:
December 3, 2011