RhoGAM, or Rho (D) Immune Globulin, is a sterile solution made from human blood plasma that is given to Rh-negative women in the form of an injection. Rh is a protein most people have in their blood, on the surfaces of red blood cells.
Someone who has this protein is said to be Rh positive, and someone who does not have it is Rh negative. Approximately 15 percent of the population is Rh negative, and of those, 15 percent are Caucasian, 5 – 8 percent are African American, and 1 – 2 percent are Asian or Native American.
Rh factor is not typically a health concern until pregnancy occurs or a blood transfusion is needed. Rh incompatibility is a mismatch between the blood of the mother and the blood of the fetus and occurs when the mother is Rh negative and the fetus is Rh positive.
The FDA approved RhoGAM in 1968, and since then it has saved countless lives. In 1977, a mini-dose called MICRhoGAM was introduced. Since the introduction of these two drugs, problems caused by Rh incompatibility in pregnancy have almost disappeared.
Some people are allergic to this medication and should not use it. If you have a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia, an immune globulin-A deficiency, heart or kidney disease, or have an allergy to human immune globulin, you will need to discuss this with your healthcare provider first.
Still, RhoGAM is not known to be harmful to a baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Learn more about the Rh Factor During Pregnancy to see if you will need the RhoGAM shot.
Why is RhoGAM Administered?
When Rh-negative blood is exposed to Rh positive blood, the Rh negative blood responds by producing antibodies that attack and destroy the Rh positive blood cells.
This can lead to problems such as fetal anemia, which in turn can cause a life-threatening condition known as hydrops fetalis, which causes internal bleeding, heart and kidney failure, and shock.
Rh immunoglobulin prevents your immune system from attacking your baby’s blood.
When is RhoGAM Administered?
RhoGAM only needs to be administered when Rh-negative blood may potentially be exposed to Rh-positive blood.
This most commonly occurs during pregnancy and blood transfusions. For Rh-negative women who are experiencing their first pregnancy, RhoGAM is usually not administered until their 28th week of pregnancy, and then again within 72 hours after delivery.
For every subsequent pregnancy after the first, RhoGAM will need to be administered at regular intervals, especially during the second half of the pregnancy.
It is also extremely important for Rh-negative women to receive this injection after any miscarriage or abortion in order to avoid future pregnancy complications.
How Does RhoGAM Work?
In a way, RhoGAM can be said to work almost like a vaccination. A vaccination introduces the body to a dosage of a virus that is too small to cause serious illness, which enables the body to learn to fight the virus effectively, thereby preventing serious illness in the future.
A RhoGAM shot contains antibodies to Rh-positive blood, but not enough of them to cause harm to the fetal bloodstream.
The mother’s body detects these antibodies, and reacts as though the immune system had already taken action against the “foreign” Rh-positive red blood cells. Because the mother’s immune system never reacts to the fetal blood, she never becomes “sensitized” to it.
Side Effects of RhoGAM
RhoGAM is known to cause side effects in some women. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you begin experiencing any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat
- Fever, chills, or shaking
- Sudden weight gain
- Swelling in hands, feet, or ankles
- Back pain
- A change in urine color
- Not urinating as often as usual
Less serious side effects may include:
- Muscle aches or pains
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Pain or tenderness at injection site
It is important to inform your health care provider of all drugs you are taking. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and drugs prescribed by other doctors, as well as over-the-counter products.
Other drugs may interact with RhoGAM and cause additional side effects. It is also important to talk with your health care provider about the risks involved with administering RhoGAM.
Because it is made from human plasma, it may contain viruses or other infectious agents that can cause disease.
RhoGAM is screened, tested, and treated to reduce the risk of containing any harmful substances, but there is a small possibility it can transmit disease. Talk with your doctor more about all side effects, benefits, and risks involved.
Depending on the manufacturer, you may hear this drug called by a different name than RhoGAM (the brand name given to it by Johnson & Johnson), including:
- MICRhoGAM (Johnson & Johnson)
- Rho (D)
- Gamulin Rh
- HypRho-D Mini-Dose
- Mini-Gamulin Rh
- WinRho SDF (Cangene)
- Partobulin SDF (Baxter)
- Rhesonativ (Octapharma)