Erythropoietin (EPO)

Erythropoietin (often shortened to EPO) is a naturally occurring hormone, secreted by the kidneys, whose function is to regulate red blood cell production. The use of EPO started in the 1980s as a quicker, cleaner alternative to blood doping.


Testing for EPO only became possible in 2000, by using both blood and urine samples, prior to this, comparisons to a ‘normal level’ were used to highlight a possible cheat!

Medical Uses of Erythropoietin

EPO has a number of medical uses, although mainly to treat anemia, secondary to other conditions, such as:

  • Renal failure
  • Cancer
  • HIV
  • Pre/Post-surgery to reduce the need for blood transfusion

Effects on Performance

EPO stimulates bone marrow to produce more red blood cells (RBC) and therefore haemoglobin. For this reason, EPO is most commonly used amongst endurance athletes as a higher RBC count means better oxygen transportation and so a higher rate of aerobic respiration. The faster the rate of aerobic respiration, the higher the level at which the athlete can work without utilising the anaerobic systems which produce lactic acid and cause fatigue.

Side-Effects of Erythropoietin

There is are major side-effects of using Erythropoietin which has proven to be fatal in previous cases:

  • Increased viscosity (thickness) of the blood (which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke)
  • Fever
  • Seizures (fits)
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Anxiety

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