Health Encyclopedia

Erythropoietin (Blood)

Does this test have other names?

EPO

What is this test?

This is a test to measure how much erythropoietin (EPO) you have in your blood. EPO is a hormone that your kidney produces to trigger the creation of red blood cells in your bone marrow. A healthy EPO level means that your body is making healthy red blood cells.

Healthy oxygen levels are linked to healthy red blood cells. For this reason, EPO levels usually rise when your body isn't getting enough oxygen. 

Why do I need this test?

You might have this test if other tests have shown that you have anemia and your doctor wants to figure out what kind of anemia you have. He or she might also order this test to help find out whether your kidneys are making an unhealthy amount of EPO, which might mean you may have a kidney tumor.

If you are a professional cyclist, long-distance runner, or other professional athlete, you may be asked to take this test. It's sometimes used to find out whether athletes have been violating anti-doping laws by using EPO as a performance-enhancing drug. 

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Because EPO plays a key role in red blood cell production, your doctor may order other blood tests, such as a complete blood count, or CBC.

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results, including the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

The normal range for EPO levels is 3.7 to 16 international units per liter (IU/L). Higher-than-normal levels may mean you have anemia. In severe cases of anemia, EPO levels in the blood may be a thousand times higher than normal.

Unusually low levels may be because of polycythemia vera, a bone marrow disorder that also results in the body making too many red blood cells. Low EPO levels may also mean you have kidney disease. 

How is this test done?

The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your arm.

Does this test pose any risks?

Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection, bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.

What might affect my test results?

Ask your doctor about what might influence your results.

How do I get ready for this test?

You don't need to prepare for this test. But make sure your doctor knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use. 

 



Medical Reviewers:

  • Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
  • Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD