The ABOs of blood types

Originally Published: March 21, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 8, 2008
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Dear Alice,

Can an A+ person receive any blood type other than their own? If so which ones? Which blood type is the universal receiver and which is the universal donor?

Dear Reader,

A person with an A+ blood type can receive blood types A and O (A+, A-, O+, and O-).

And here's why.... Blood types are determined by ABO blood grouping, which is based on two inherited antigens called A and B. An antigen is anything capable of inducing an immune reaction, and, in this case, A and B are proteins which are found in red blood cell membranes. The presence, or absence, of antigens and antibodies in your plasma will determine which blood type you can receive. See the table below for information about the antigens and antibodies specific to your blood type:

Blood Type
A
B
AB
O

Antigens
A
B
A and B
None

Antibodies in Plasma
Anti-B
Anti-A
None
Both Anti-A and Anti-B

So, what does this table mean? Your blood already contains antibodies against any antigens you do not manufacture yourself. For example, if you are type A, you cannot accept B and AB blood types because you will have a transfusion reaction, which is a special kind of tissue rejection. Basically, your anti-B serum antibodies will react with the B antigens in the donor blood and result in agglutinated blood (aggregation of red blood cells into clumps) that destroys the donor's cells. This reaction, if severe enough, could cause complications and possibly death. If you are type AB, since you have no antibodies against either A or B antigens in your blood, you will not experience an immune response to any blood type you receive. On the other hand, if you are type O, you can receive only type O blood because you have antibodies to both A and B antigens in your blood, which will cause an immune response to all other blood types.

Below is another table that will explain which types of donor blood someone could receive based on their blood type:

Recipient has blood type:
A
B
AB
O

Can receive blood type(s):
A, O
B, O
A, B, AB, O
O

 

As you can see, type AB is considered the universal recipient blood type because, theoretically, type AB individuals can receive all blood types (and is the only blood type that can accept type AB blood). Type O blood is considered the universal donor blood type because, theoretically, type O blood is accepted by all blood types. An emphasis is placed on theoretically because A and B are not the only antigens present on the surface of your blood cells. There's another important antigen carried on a separate gene called the Rh antigen. If you have the A antigen and the Rh antigen, your blood type is A+. If you don't have the Rh antigen, you're A-. O- is the universal donor blood type because it has no A, B, or Rh antigens, and, therefore, won't cause a transfusion reaction in anyone.

If you don't know your blood type, find out what it is in case you need a blood transfusion. At the same time, even if you already know your blood type, you may expect to be retested in order to prevent a reaction caused by minor antigens.

Excuse the shameless pun, but knowing your blood type will help you B+ you're getting the right care in case of a transfusion.

 

Alice

May 1, 2012

510670
Thank you! Human Anatomy and Physiology student. My book doesn't explain it as well as you did.
Thank you! Human Anatomy and Physiology student. My book doesn't explain it as well as you did.

May 19, 2004

20563
Alice,

I appreciate your answer to the question. It has explained blood type to me better than anyone ever has before. And I've been an RN for 21 years. The comments made after your submission...

Alice,

I appreciate your answer to the question. It has explained blood type to me better than anyone ever has before. And I've been an RN for 21 years. The comments made after your submission should be ignored. My nephew had surgery this year and they didn't do a blood x/match. If he had lost a lot of blood during surgery, they may not have had time to get a type/match on him. Thanks for your explanations.

May 19, 2004

20564
Dear Alice

This was a very helpful explanation. I am in my first year of Medical Laboratory Technology and I was too embarrassed to ask my teacher because we had already gone over this info and I...

Dear Alice

This was a very helpful explanation. I am in my first year of Medical Laboratory Technology and I was too embarrassed to ask my teacher because we had already gone over this info and I didn't want to appear stupid in front of my classmates. While I am sure it is helpful to know your type, it is even better if you carry a donor card stating your type because should the situation arise where you can't answer for yourself, it can.

August 24, 2001

20377
Dear Alice,

Don't be silly. You state in your page about blood types that people should know what their blood type is just in case they have a medical emergency. No doctor is ever going to take a...

Dear Alice,

Don't be silly. You state in your page about blood types that people should know what their blood type is just in case they have a medical emergency. No doctor is ever going to take a patient's word for that particular a piece of information. Blood typing & crossmatch takes a matter of minutes, and will always be performed on the spot before a patient is given blood. If there isn't time, O- will be given until the true blood type can be determined.