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Erythropoietin (r-HuEPO)

Known Name Brands: Erythropoietin, Epogen 


EPO is an injectable protein hormone that acts on bone marrow to stimulate red blood cell production. This is a new drug which is being experimented with by some elite sports athletes especially distance runners and elite cyclists. It was developed for patients suffering aneniia due to disease. It has been very effective for what it is designed for and sometimes is used as a replacement for blood transfusions. Athletes use this drug to dramatically increase red blood cells which are the oxygen carrying components of blood. Athletes are well aware that if they can increase the oxygen-storing ability of their blood they can increase performance. This is the theory behind blood doping. EPO has the same effects but is more convenient considering the use of EPO just requires a number of injections. Blood doping requires drawing out approximately a liter of blood, freezing it, then thawing it and reinfusing it several weeks later. 

Unfortunately, EPO has some serious dangers associated with it. It is suspected to be the cause of over half a dozen deaths amongst a circle of elite Dutch cyclists. EPO has a dramatic effect on hematocrit which is the percentage of red blood cells in blood. A hematocrit of 40 means that 40% of the volume of blood is composed of red blood cells which is about normal. Athletes not uncommonly have a higher-than-average hematocrit. When an athlete injects EPO, there hematocrit can rise as much as 40%. This results in an especially high concentration of RBCS. The danger sets in when this hematocrit level gets too high. At this point, blood could literally 'clog up' an artery leading to a vascular disaster in the form of a heart attack stroke, cardiac failure, or a condition called pulmonary edema; this is a form of water logging of the lungs because of left ventricular failure. The potential for arterial accidents becomes even greater when an athlete gets dehydrated. Obviously, marathon runners and cyclists lose large amounts of fluid during competition. This loss of fluid can raise the concentration of hematocrit even more, increasing the risk of a fatality. EPO use is most widespread amongst endurance athletes yet a number of weightlifters have been experimenting with it.

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