The dangers of taking EPO

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The Independent Online

What is EPO? Erythropoietin, known as EPO, is a synthetic version of a hormone that occurs naturally in the human body to stimulate red blood cell production.

What is EPO?Erythropoietin, known as EPO, is a synthetic version of a hormone that occurs naturally in the human body to stimulate red blood cell production.

An increase in red blood cells improves the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. It may also increase the body's capacity to reduce the build-up of lactic acid. Synthetic EPO is legitimately used by doctors to treat anaemia, or low red blood cell count, mainly in people with cancer, Aids or kidney problems. Athletes who use EPO do so largely to improve endurance performance or to improve recovery from exercise.

It is most commonly associated with cyclists, cross-country skiers and distance runners. Use of synthetic EPO can cause the blood to thicken excessively. The heart has to work harder to pump the thicker blood and the blood is more prone to clot. EPO use has been associated with an increase in the risk of heart attack, stroke and clots in the lung. The risk is exacerbated by dehydration, which often occurs during endurance exercise.

EPO is banned, in and out of competition, under the World Anti-Doping Code's list of prohibited drugs. Tests are common in cycling but virtually non-existent in football.

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