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Knowing your blood type may save your life

We have told you about many factors that can increase your risk of stroke, but what if we told you something as simple as your blood type may increase the risk? Robert Allen, M.D., a hematologist at Piedmont Hospital, explains more about this topic. Previously, we reported on National Blood Donor Month and why blood donation is so important.

Dr. Martin is delving into a new study that found blood type may be related to a person's risk of stroke. “There are a few major blood types – the most common type is type O,” explains Robert Allen, M.D., a hematologist at Piedmont Hospital. “The others include type A, B and AB, where you inherit the gene for type A from one parent and type B from another.”

Everyone has a specific protein on the surface of their blood cells. For example, if you have blood type B, you have a different protein than type A. If you are type AB, you have both types of proteins. A person with type O has neither type of protein.

Know Your Blood Type

Most people learn which blood type they have the first time they donate blood. “It is always important to do a type and a cross-match in any situation when you do a blood transfusion,” he explains.

Blood Type as a Predictor of Stroke

According to a recent study at Brigham and Women's Hospital, researchers believe blood type can be tied to an increased risk of stroke. “In this study, they looked at 90,000 people over a 20-year period and looked at about 3,000 instances of stroke,” says Dr. Allen. “Researchers found that men and women who had type AB blood had about a 25 percent increased chance of getting a stroke. Women who had type B blood had a 15 percent increased risk. There appears to be some correlation between blood type and your risk for having a stroke.”

So how exactly does your blood type influence your risk of stroke? “These proteins, which may be present in other areas of the body in addition to the surface of red blood cells, are probably somehow related to damage to the blood vessels and risk for stroke,” he says. Dr. Allen believes that ultimately physicians will identify a patient's blood type to determine his or her stroke risk. “However, we're not there yet. We don't have enough information to support this,” he explains. “Maybe five or 10 years from now, when we have more information, we can say, 'If you have type AB blood, we want to control your cholesterol a little more carefully than if you have type O blood.'”

Given this information, just how important is it to know your blood type? “It can't hurt to find out,” says Dr. Allen. “The quickest and simplest way to find out your blood type is to [donate] a pint of blood at the Red Cross. They'll give you a card with your blood type while you're sitting there. This way you'll know your type and will be doing the country some good, too.”

As you can see, donating blood can have many benefits, from helping someone who is undergoing surgery or cancer treatment to learning your own blood type as a potential predictor of stroke. We encourage you to get involved in a blood drive this month and throughout the year – there is no better time to start than now.

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