How to Discover Your Blood Type

Certain blood types may put you at higher risk for heart disease or other conditions.

How to Discover Your Blood Type

By Erica Sweeney, Good Housekeeping

Blood can play a huge role in your health, and yet many people don't know their blood type — or haven't even discussed the topic with a doctor. A 2019 survey by Quest Diagnostics, a clinical laboratory company, found that 43% of Americans don’t know their blood types. "Most people actually don’t know their blood type unless they've had some type of procedure done or a recent visit that required a blood type [test]," explains Tiffany Lowe-Payne, DO, a North Carolina-based osteopathic family physician, who also serves as an assistant professor at Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

But a recent revelation in research during the novel coronavirus pandemic has people suddenly very interested in understanding which kind of blood pumps through their veins. According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June, data suggests that people with Type A blood may be at greater risk for contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe symptoms, while people with Type O blood have a lower risk. However, another study published in July counters some of these findings, illustrating a lack of concrete evidence in a connection between blood type and COVID-19. And Lowe-Payne emphasizes that any blood type is susceptible to severe symptoms, despite these studies.

But there are other diseases and risks outside of the pandemic that may also be influenced by your blood type. Certain blood types are associated with higher risks for a string of cancers, based on data pulled from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for example. Those with AB and A blood types are also more likely to develop stomach cancer, per a recent study published in BioMed Central Cancer. And according to experts at the University of Pennsylvania, those with A, B, and AB blood types also have a 6% greater risk of developing coronary heart disease; the same blood types are also linked to an 82% greater likelihood of developing memory issues, compared to Type O.

It's clear that blood type, among other aspects of inherited genetics, may influence your health more than you know — an important topic to discuss with your doctor. There are a few simple ways you can find out your blood type before discussing any potential risks with your healthcare provider.

Why should I know my blood type?

How to Discover Your Blood Type

Your blood type is something you’re born with, and it’s determined by your parents' genetics — specifically, whether or not certain antigens are present in your body, according to the American Red Cross. Put simply, an antigen is a substance that prompts an immune response in the body; it triggers your immune system to get into gear.

The main blood groups are based on the presence or absence of two antigens, A and B, on the surface of our red blood cells. People with neither A or B antigens have what's called Type O blood. The protein rhesus (also known as Rh) factor may also be present, known as positive, or absent, known as negative.

In the United States, O+ is the most common blood type, found in about 37% of the population, followed by A+ in around 36% of people, according to the Stanford School of Medicine Blood Center. AB- is the rarest, occurring in less than 1% of Americans. The Red Cross considers people with Type O- blood the “universal blood donor,” because it can be used in emergency blood transfusions for any other blood type.

But do you really need to know your blood type? For most people, it isn’t actually very important, says Stephanie Lee, M.D., president of the American Society of Hematology and associate director of the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "I think it's good in general to know about your health, but specifically, the two areas where [blood type] comes up would be transfusion or in pregnancy,” says Dr. Lee, who is also a professor at the University of Washington.

She explains that medical teams don't rely on you sharing your blood type before any major operation or blood transfusion; they'll test your blood type beforehand. Pregnant women, in particular, routinely undergo blood-type tests to determine their Rh factor, and whether it is compatible with their baby. If a new mom has Rh-negative blood and their baby is found to be developing Rh-positive blood types, it could cause a number of complications, including miscarriage, if it's not caught early during pregnancy. Doctors can often administer what's called a RhoGAM shot to offset any problems with Rh compatibility.

See more at: Good Housekeeping

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Health Magazine: How to Discover Your Blood Type
How to Discover Your Blood Type
Learn how to find your blood type, why your blood type matters, and which blood types your body will accept in a transfusion in case of emergency. Our blood chart explains which blood types are compatible based on antigens and Rh factors in blood.
Health Magazine
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