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Erythropoietin Blood Test

Last updated May 2, 2019

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

The Erythropoietin Blood Test is a test to measure the amount of erythropoietin in the bloodstream.

What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • EPO Blood Test

What is Erythropoietin Blood Test? (Background Information)

  • Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone produced by the kidneys that controls red blood cell production. It may be tested when investigating blood disorders such as anemia
  • The kidneys produce EPO in response to a fall in blood oxygen levels. This may be due to increases in elevation (higher altitudes) or exercise
  • EPO travels through blood to the bone marrow and stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells
  • The Erythropoietin Blood Test is a test to measure the amount of erythropoietin in the bloodstream. It is used to differentiate between different types of anemia, and to determine the cause of high red blood cell count

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Erythropoietin Blood Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing an Erythropoietin Blood Test:

  • Monitoring erythropoietin therapy
  • Evaluating known anemias and differentiating between different types
  • Suspected erythropoietin-producing tumors
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Pale appearance
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Altered mental status
  • Headache

How is the Specimen Collected for Erythropoietin Blood Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Erythropoietin Blood Test:

Sample required: Blood

Process of obtaining blood sample in adults:

  • A band is wrapped around the arm, 3-4 inches above the collection site (superficial vein that lies within the elbow pit)
  • The site is cleaned with 70% alcohol in an outward spiral, away from the zone of needle insertion
  • The needle cap is removed and is held in line with the vein, pulling the skin tight
  • With a small and quick thrust, the vein is penetrated using the needle
  • The required amount of blood sample is collected by pulling the plunger of the syringe out slowly
  • The wrap band is removed, gauze is placed on the collection site, and the needle is removed
  • The blood is immediately transferred into the blood container, which has the appropriate preservative/clot activator/anti-coagulant
  • The syringe and the needle are disposed into the appropriate “sharp container” for safe and hygienic disposal

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Erythropoietin Blood Test Result?

The significance of the Erythropoietin Blood Test result is explained:

  • Increased erythropoietin levels may indicate:
    • Anemias, including aplastic anemia, hemolytic anemia, and uncomplicated anemias
    • Bleeding
    • Myelodysplastic syndrome
    • Hepatoma
    • Kidney transplant rejection
    • Nephroblastoma
    • Pheochromocytoma
    • Secondary polycythemia
  • Decreased erythropoietin levels may indicate:
    • Primary polycythemia (or polycythemia vera)
    • Kidney disease or failure
    • AIDS
    • Anemias of chronic illness
    • Rheumatoid arthritis

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Erythropoietin is sometimes taken illicitly by endurance athletes to enhance performance. The increased red blood cells (RBCs) allows for more oxygen and carbon dioxide transport and thus a higher level of performance. However, this is dangerous because the sudden increase in RBCs can lead to a dangerous increase in the thickness of blood, reducing the heart’s pumping efficiency
  • Certain factors influence the results of this test. These include exercise, altitude, pregnancy, and diet

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

Please visit our Laboratory Procedures Center for more physician-approved health information:


References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 25, 2015
Last updated: May 2, 2019