Blood Doping, Erythropoietin

The term blood doping refers to artificially increasing one's red blood cell (hemoglobin) concentration in the blood. The increase in hemoglobin increases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. This is beneficial in sports. There are several different forms of blood doping including the use of blood transfusions (either the athlete's blood or a volunteer's) or by use of medications that stimulates the body to make more red blood cells (erythropoietin).

Erythropoietin is a hormone that naturally exists in the body. Without erythropoietin, the body has difficulty producing hemoglobin. Erythropoietin can be produced synthetically and is used to treat anemia in patients with renal failure. The use of erythropoietin by healthy athletes is banned in most sports. However, its use has become a common way to illegally enhance performance. Other erythropoietin-like drugs are now approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are commercially available, such as darbepoetin. These drugs are also banned in most sports.

WHY ATHLETES USE ERYTHROPOIETIN

Athletes use erythropoietin to enhance hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen to the body tissue, such as muscle. By improving the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, athletes can use their muscles more effectively especially in endurance sports (distance running, cycling, and cross-country skiing).

ADVERSE EFFECTS

  • Allergic reactions.

  • Overproduction of red blood cells may compromise blood flow and result in a stroke or heart attack.

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which a blood clot may break off and become lodged in the lungs, causing pulmonary embolus (which may be fatal).

PREVENTION

Erythropoietin should not be used in athletics.