Erythropoietin (cont.)

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What does an abnormal erythropoietin (EPO) level indicate?

Abnormal erythropoietin levels suggest possible disease of the bone marrow or kidneys. Another possibility is abuse by an athlete to increase the red cell count for better athletic performance. The correct interpretation of an abnormal erythropoietin level depends on the particular clinical situation.

Can a person without a medical disease or condition have a high erythropoietin (EPO) level?

Yes. For example, erythropoietin has been misused as a performance-enhancing drug in athletes such as cyclists (in the Tour de France), long-distance runners, speed skaters, and Nordic (cross-country) skiers. When misused in such situations, erythropoietin is thought to be especially dangerous (perhaps becausedehydration due to vigorous exercise can further increase the thickness (viscosity) of the blood, raising the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Erythropoietin has been banned by the Tour de France, the Olympics, and other sports organizations.

Is erythropoietin (EPO) available as a prescribed medication?

Yes. Using recombinant DNA technology, erythropoietin has been synthetically produced for use as a treatment for persons with certain types of anemia. Erythropoietin can be used to correct anemia by stimulating red blood cell production in the bone marrow in these conditions. The medication is known as epoetin alfa (Epogen, Procrit). It can be given as an injection intravenously (into a vein) or subcutaneously (under the skin).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/31/2014