Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone produced by the kidney and it stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. Also, it can be synthetically produced for use as a treatment for persons with certain types of anemia.
The medication is known as epoetin alfa (Epogen, Procrit) and it can be given as an injection intravenously (into a vein) or subcutaneously (under the skin).
The erythropoietin hormone level can be detected and measured in the blood (the EPO test) and it can be used to detect certain conditions. Normal levels of erythropoietin range from 4 up to 24 mU/ml (milliunits per milliliter).
If there is too much erythropoietin, it might cause too many red blood cells (polycythemia), might be evidence for a kidney tumor or in athlete can suggest erythropoietin abuse (it is banned in the Tour de France, the Olympics, and other sports organizations) or if there is too little erythropoietin it might be responsible for too few red blood cells (such as in evaluating anemia, especially anemia related to kidney disease).
Before the procedure, the patient is usually asked not to eat for 8-10 hours (overnight) and sometimes to lie quietly and relax for 20 or 30 minutes before the test. Then a routine sample of blood is taken and sent to the laboratory for analysis.