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Blood Doping

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Tests for Blood Doping

There are tests to detect some types of blood doping, but not all. Here's a roundup of testing for different types of blood doping:

Autologous transfusions. Currently, no test exists to directly detect autologous transfusions. Instead, indirect methods are used.

One indirect method involves comparing an athlete's blood profile at testing time to blood samples collected at previous times. Significant differences between the two indicate possible blood doping. Known as the Athlete Passport, this method is endorsed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Homologous transfusions. Blood doping via homologous transfusion can be detected by testing. The tests were used at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

EPO injections. Blood and urine tests can detect the presence of synthetic EPO. But EPO remains in the body for a very short time, while its effects last much longer. This means that the window for testing can be quite brief. Additional testing methods aimed at detecting new forms of EPO are currently being researched.

Synthetic oxygen carriers. A test is available that can detect the presence of synthetic oxygen carriers. It was first used in 2004.

Risks of Blood Doping

By increasing the number of red blood cells, blood doping causes the blood to thicken. This thickening forces the heart to work harder than normal to pump blood throughout the body. As a result, blood doping raises the risk of:

  • blood clot
  • heart attack
  • stroke

An estimated 20 European cyclists are believed to have died as a result of blood doping over the past 25 years.

Blood doping via transfusion carries additional risks. Tainted blood can spread infectious diseases such as:

  • HIV
  • hepatitis B
  • hepatitis C

Over time, repeated blood transfusions can cause a dangerous buildup of iron in the body. Improperly stored blood and improperly administered transfusions can cause acute lung injury and bacterial infection.

Blood transfusions also have potential side effects of:

  • allergic reactions
  • fever
  • rashes or hives

The risks of EPO injections include:

  • hyperkalemia (potentially dangerous elevation of plasma potassium levels in the body)
  • high blood pressure
  • mild flu-like symptoms

Athletes who use synthetic oxygen carriers have an increased risk of:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • blood clot

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on August 28, 2014
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