Erythropoietin (EPO)

What is Erythropoietin?

Erythropoietin is a hormone produced by the kidneys that stimulates bone marrow to make healthy red blood cells, thereby increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. A recombinant form of EPO (rHuEPO) has been developed to treat a variety of diseases including anemia due to kidney failure, cancer or AIDS. EPO has been abused as a performance enhancing substance by endurance athletes such as cyclists, long-distance runners, speed-skaters and cross-country skiers.

What are the common names or slang terms for Erythropoietin?

Erythropoietin is commonly referred to as EPO.

What does Erythropoietin look like?

EPO is an injectable liquid.

How is Erythropoietin used?

Erythropoietin is generally given as an injection under the skin one to three times a week.

What are its short and long-term effects on the body?

EPO is dangerous because it increases blood viscosity, or thickness. If blood becomes too “thick,” blood can sludge and clog capillaries. If this happens in the brain, a stroke will result. If it happens in the heart, a heart attack will occur.

rHuEPO use is especially dangerous to individuals who exercise over prolonged periods. Additional dangers of rHuEPO include sudden death during sleep and the development of antibodies directed against EPO. In this later circumstance, the individual develops anemia as a result of the body's reaction against repeated rHuEPO injections.

What is its federal classification?

To be used legally, this substance requires a legitimate prescription from a physician.