Erythropoietin Test

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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:

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before your procedure and during recovery

  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, or increase in pain

  • Taking your medications exactly as directed

  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies

How do I prepare for my erythropoietin test?

If you dread the thought of needles and undergoing medical testing, you are not alone. However, you are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before your procedure can improve your comfort and help your doctor obtain the most accurate test results.

You can prepare for an erythropoietin test by answering all questions about your medical history and medications you take. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.

No other special preparation is needed.

Questions to ask your doctor

Preparing for a blood test can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before your test and between appointments.

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointment. Questions might include:

  • Why do I need an erythropoietin test? Are there any other options for diagnosing my condition?

  • What restrictions will I have after the procedure?

  • What medication plan should I follow before and after the procedure?

  • When should I get the test results?

  • When should I follow up with you?

  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

  • What other tests or treatments might I need?

What can I expect after my erythropoietin test?

Knowing what to expect after an erythropoietin test can help you get back to your everyday life as soon as possible.

How will I feel after the erythropoietin test?

Some people feel a mild throbbing or bruising at the needle puncture site. Apply an ice pack if it bothers you. Take over-the-counter pain medications only as directed by your healthcare provider. If you have increased pain at the site, alert your healthcare provider because it can be a sign of a complication.

When can I go home?

You can usually go home immediately after your erythropoietin test.

When should I call my doctor?

It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after an erythropoietin test. Call your doctor if you have questions or concerns between appointments. Call your doctor if you have:

  • Bleeding

  • Fever (you should not have any fever after a minor blood test)

  • Pain

  • Severe skin discoloration or a pocket of blood under your skin

  • Warmth, redness, swelling or drainage at the needle puncture site

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 14
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Anemia. American Society of Hematology.
  2. Erythropoietin. American Association for Clinical Chemistry.