Linking blood types and disease

Analysis of over five million health records finds most diseases are not influenced by blood type, but people with type B blood have a decreased risk of kidney stones.

A blood donation bag with the blood type label visible. Image credit: ICSident (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The blood types that many people are familiar with, such as O-negative or AB-positive, are determined by two systems of antigens or proteins on the surface of the red blood cells: the ABO system and the RhD system. The ABO system types people’s blood as A, B or AB if they have A and/or B antigens, or as type O if they have neither; while the RhD system provides the positive or negative label depending on whether or not the RhD antigen is present. Previous studies have found that some ABO blood groups are linked to increased risk and severity of a variety of conditions, including blood clots in veins, bleeding disorders and gastric ulcers.

Despite the known influence that blood groups can have on disease, the connection has not been fully studied in many conditions, particularly for RhD status. Knowing the differences in risk and disease severity between different populations could help clinicians identify individuals that they need to monitor more closely and include blood group information in prediction models.

To fill this gap in information, Dahlén et al. systematically looked for relationships between diseases and blood groups using records from 5.1 million people on a Swedish national blood donation-transfusion database. Examining 1,217 disease categories revealed that the vast majority did not appear to have a connection to either the ABO or RhD systems of classifying blood. However, the analysis identified 49 diseases with links to ABO blood types and one linked to RhD status. One notable finding was that people with blood group B have an decreased risk of kidney stones.

The distribution of blood groups varies significantly around the world, so this relationship between disease and blood group may in part explain regional differences in disease occurrence. In the future, identifying relationships with blood groups may help to better understand the underlying biological mechanisms of diseases and lead to new avenues of research.