Definition - What does RhoGAM mean?

RhoGAM, or Rho D immune globulin (RhoIg), is an injectable medicine given to a pregnant woman who has a Rh (rhesus) negative blood type, in order to prevent complications resulting from carrying a Rh-positive baby, a condition referred to as Rh incompatibility. Rh incompatibility is a condition characterized by an excessive breakdown of red blood cells leading to various complications in the Rh-positive baby. This disease occurs due to the formation of antibodies directed against the Rh-positive blood cells of the baby that have gained access to the mother’s system. RhoGAM, which is a solution of antibodies to the Rh factor per se, prevents the formation of these antibodies in the mother that trigger Rh disease in the baby.

FertilitySmarts explains RhoGAM

If RhoGAM is not given to a Rh-negative mother, the Rh-positive blood cells (containing the Rh factor) of the baby can enter the mother’s bloodstream due to a variety of factors (see below). The mother’s system recognizes the baby’s Rh factor as "foreign" and produces antibodies, called anti-D antibodies to protect herself. Fortunately, these antibodies aren’t produced immediately and rhesus disease does not develop in the first pregnancy. However, the anti-D antibodies exert devastating effects on future pregnancies as they can cross the placenta, enter the baby, and attack his or her Rh-positive red blood cells. When affected, these babies develop anemia, yellowish discoloration of the skin (jaundice), and in severe cases, a collection of fluid in the body and organs leading to organ enlargement, heart failure, and death.

This is why 2 shots of anti-D immunoglobulin or RhoGAM are given to a Rh-negative mother during pregnancy or soon after delivery to prevent the onset of Rh disease. During pregnancy, the woman receives one shot at about 28 weeks and the other at 34 weeks.

RhoGAM tricks the mother's immune system, which perceives RhoGAM as being the antibody that it had to produce against the Rh-positive blood. Therefore, the mother's body does not make any antibodies on her own, which can otherwise set off Rh disease.

Anti-D is also given to a Rh-negative woman who is at risk of being exposed to the fetal blood. For instance:

  • A woman who sustains a miscarriage
  • A woman who undergoes any obstetric/gynecologic procedure (in particular, amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling) during pregnancy: The fetal blood can leak and mix with the mother's blood
  • Following a previous miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy: Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy can lead to vaginal bleeding that can cause the fetal blood to mix with the mother’s blood.
  • Following a premature separation of the placenta - a condition called as placental abruption
  • After sustaining trauma to the abdomen during pregnancy
Rh disease can negatively influence a woman's fertility potential because of the risk of Rh disease.
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