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Immunohematology is a branch of medicine that primarily deals with the processes and complications surrounding blood transfusions. Immunohematologists study how red blood cells react to foreign blood cells. This allows them to develop safer and more reliable methodologies for blood transfusions and also gives them insight into several blood-related diseases that involve the interaction between antibodies and antigens.
The study of immunohematology requires knowledge of some different medical disciplines. An understanding of immunology is important because the immunohematologist will be dealing with antibodies. Knowledge of genetics is required to aid in typing different blood antigens. Serology must be studied because of its relevance to working with blood. Combined, these give a practitioner the ability to perform several key functions involved in blood transfusions.
A trained immunohematologist performs a variety of tasks, including preparing blood and its components for storage or for transfusion. Testing newborn babies for immediate blood disorders is another responsibility. Most often an immunohematologist performs cross-matching to be sure a transfusion will not cause unnecessary complications. Detecting and diagnosing different blood disorders in patients also falls under the description of what an immunohematologist does.
The study of immunohematology is a complex and necessary field of specialization because of how the body reacts under certain conditions. When the red blood cells in a body encounter foreign red blood cells that have certain antigens on their surface, the cells will create antibodies. These antibodies will destroy the foreign cells. Immunohematology seeks to learn as much as possible about the hundreds of different antigens that exist so there will be a way to transfuse blood without causing antibodies to be produced.
There also are blood diseases that can cause serious harm. An immunohematologist studies these diseases so he or she can accurately diagnose them and, hopefully, mitigate some of the damage being done. One disease that occurs in pregnant women causes red blood cells to attack the body’s own cells, releasing hemoglobin that could lead to renal failure. These are the types of diseases with which immunohematology deals.
Immunohematology is a practice closely tied to the medical technology available within a geographic area. Not all areas of the world are able to give blood transfusions or have access to the machinery necessary to identify the different antigen groups. Other areas give transfusions infrequently and do not keep the proper equipment on site. In these cases, the effectiveness of an immunohematologist is limited.