Erythropoietin (EPO, The EPO Test)

  • Medical Author:
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Is the kidney the sole source of erythropoietin (EPO)?

No. Erythropoietin is produced to a lesser extent by the liver. Only about 10% of erythropoietin is produced in the liver. The erythropoietin gene has been found on human chromosome 7 (in band 7q21). Different DNA sequences flanking the erythropoietin gene act to control liver versus kidney production of erythropoietin.

Why is an erythropoietin (EPO) test performed?

The erythropoietin hormone can be detected and measured in the blood. An abnormal level of erythropoietin in the blood can indicate bone marrow disorders, (such as polycythemia, or increased red blood cell production) kidney disease, or erythropoietin abuse. Testing erythropoietin blood levels is of value if:

  • Too little erythropoietin might be responsible for too few red blood cells (anemia), especially anemia related to kidney disease.
  • Too much erythropoietin might be causing too many red blood cells (polycythemia).
  • Too much erythropoietin might be evidence for a kidney tumor.
  • Too much erythropoietin in an athlete may suggest erythropoietin abuse.

How is the erythropoietin (EPO) test performed?

The patient is usually asked to fast for 8-10 hours (overnight) and sometimes to lie quietly and relax for 20 or 30 minutes before the test. The test requires a routine sample of blood, which is sent to the laboratory for analysis.

What are normal erythropoietin (EPO) levels?

Normal levels of erythropoietin range from 4 up to 24 mU/ml (milliunits per milliliter).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/19/2015

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