What is an erythropoietin test?

An erythropoietin test measures the amount of erythropoietin in your blood. Erythropoietin is a hormone made by your kidneys that stimulates your body to make red blood cells. An erythropoietin test is an important test that can help determine the cause of anemia (low red blood cells) and polycythemia (high red blood cells). It can also help determine if your kidneys are making enough erythropoietin if you have chronic kidney disease.

An erythropoietin test is a simple blood draw but it is not a routine laboratory test. It is only one method that your doctor can use to test for causes of anemia and other red blood cell disorders. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about different testing options to understand which option is right for you.

Why is an erythropoietin test performed?

Your doctor may recommend an erythropoietin test for the following conditions:

  • Anemia, or low red blood cells. Anemia is usually discovered through blood tests that measure the concentration of hemoglobin and the number of red blood cells. An erythropoietin test helps your doctor determine whether your anemia is related to not having enough erythropoietin.
  • Chronic kidney disease to determine whether your kidneys are still able to produce enough erythropoietin for your body
  • Polycythemia, or high red blood cells, to determine whether you have too much erythropoietin

Who performs an erythropoietin test?

A nurse, phlebotomist, or other healthcare provider will perform your erythropoietin test in a hospital laboratory or outpatient laboratory setting. A phlebotomist is a clinical laboratory technician who specializes in drawing blood.

The following types of doctors may order your erythropoietin test to help determine the cause of anemia (low red blood cells) and polycythemia (high red blood cells):

  • Hematologists specialize in researching, diagnosing and treating diseases and conditions that affect the blood.
  • Nephrologists and pediatric nephrologists specialize in the health needs of people with kidney diseases and disorders.
  • Primary care providers include pediatricians, internists, and family medicine doctors. These providers offer routine and specialized healthcare and treat a wide range of illnesses and conditions.
  • Pediatric hematologists-oncologists specialize in researching, diagnosing and treating blood disorders and cancer in children.
  • Critical care medicine doctors and pediatric critical care medicine doctors care for patients with acute, life-threatening illnesses or injuries

How is an erythropoietin test performed?

An erythropoietin test takes a few minutes to perform. It generally includes these steps:

  1. You sit in a chair with your arm supported.
  2. Your healthcare provider cleans the area, usually the inside of your elbow or the back of your hand.
  3. Your healthcare provider wraps an elastic band around your upper arm to make your vein fill with blood and swell.
  4. Your healthcare provider inserts a needle into your vein and collects the necessary amount of blood in an airtight vial attached to the needle. He or she removes the elastic band from your arm to let your blood flow.
  5. Your healthcare provider withdraws the needle after blood collection is complete. He or she applies pressure to the site to stop any bleeding and covers the site with a bandage.

Will I feel pain?

Your comfort and relaxation is very important to both you and your care team. You may feel a brief pinch or prick during the needle insertion. Tell your healthcare provider if you are uncomfortable.

What are the risks and potential complications of an erythropoietin test?

Complications after an erythropoietin test are not common, but any procedure involves risks and potential complications. Complications can develop during the procedure or throughout recovery. Risks and potential complications of an erythropoietin test include:

  • Bleeding
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Hematoma (a collection of blood under the skin)
  • Infection
Reducing your risk of complications