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Glucagon Blood Test - Conditions, Test Results, and Risks

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Glucagon Blood Test - Conditions, Test Results, and Risks

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A glucagon blood test measures the levels of the hormone glucagon in the blood. Read below to learn more about the test.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Shaikh Sadaf

Published At July 18, 2022
Reviewed AtMay 15, 2024

Introduction:

Glucose is the primary source of energy for all body cells. The body has a regulatory mechanism that helps control blood sugar levels. When it receives glucose in the form of food, the beta cells of the pancreas release a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin acts as a key for glucose to enter the cells.

When the glucose that remains in the blood after the required amount is taken up by the cells, it gets converted into glycogen stored in the liver and muscles. Glycogen is stored when blood sugar levels fall. The alpha cells of the pancreas secrete a hormone called glucagon that helps convert the stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the bloodstream.

What Are the Functions of Glucagon?

Insulin and glucagon are the two essential hormones regulating blood glucose levels.

The following are the functions of glucagon:

  1. It triggers the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the blood.

  2. It prevents the liver from absorbing glucose from the blood, allowing more glucose to stay in the blood.

  3. It also uses sources like amino acids to convert them into glucose.

What Is a Glucagon Blood Test?

A glucagon blood test measures the levels of glucagon in the blood. Therefore, any fluctuations in the blood sugar levels indicate problems with glucagon regulation.

What Are the Other Names of a Glucagon Blood Test?

The other names of the test include:

  1. Hypoglycemia-glucagon test.

  2. Low blood sugar-glucagon test.

  3. Glucagonoma-glucagon test.

  4. Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1-glucagon test.

What Are the Conditions in Which a Glucagon Blood Test Is Performed?

The test helps in the diagnosis of the following conditions.

  • Hypoglycemia: A condition where blood glucose levels keep falling below normal frequently. It can be a serious problem if not treated for long periods.

  • Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis. It can be acute or chronic. The onset of pain is sudden and severe in the acute type, whereas the condition that lasts for a long time with less severe symptoms is called chronic. In pancreatitis, inflammation and damage of the pancreatic cells lead to no insulin and glucagon release. The absence of insulin causes high blood sugars, which are managed by synthetic insulin administration. The insulin triggers hypoglycemic episodes as the glucagon levels also remain low due to damage to the pancreas.

  • Glucagonoma: A rare tumor in the pancreas that leads to the release of excess glucagon.

Symptoms associated with glucagonoma include:

  • Increased blood glucose levels.

  • Anemia.

  • Loss of weight.

  • Mild diabetes.

  • Soreness of mouth.

  • Swollen tongue.

  • A skin rash called migratory necrotizing erythema.

  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN): A rare inherited condition in which numerous tumors involve various endocrine glands, including the pancreas. A tumor of the pancreas affects glucagon levels.

  • Liver Cirrhosis: The replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue is called liver cirrhosis. It is a late-stage disease of the liver. Cirrhosis restricts glucagon's action, causing an imbalance in blood glucose levels.

  • Pancreatectomy: Partial or complete removal of the pancreas leads to the loss of cells that produce insulin and glucagon, which results in an imbalance in blood glucose levels.

What Is the Purpose of a Glucagon Blood Test for an Individual?

Doctors advise a glucagon blood test when the patient experiences symptoms of hypoglycemia or a pancreatic tumor.

The symptoms of hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Sweating.

  • Irritability.

  • Confusion.

  • A feeling of hunger.

  • Anxiety.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Pale skin.

  • A tingling sensation on the lips and tongue.

  • Irregular heartbeat.

Symptoms of pancreatic tumors include the following:

  • Loss of weight.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Sore mouth.

  • Rashes on the skin.

How to Prepare for a Glucagon Blood Test?

The person taking a glucagon blood test needs to fast for around eight to 12 hours. Ideally, the doctor advises restricting foods the night before the test, and the sample is collected the following day.

What Happens During the Glucagon Blood Test?

During the test, the healthcare professional inserts a small needle into the arm's vein and draws a small quantity of blood into a vial or a test tube. The blood collected is stored and sent to the laboratory for further analysis. Once the results are available, the doctor provides more information on what they mean.

What Is the Normal Range for a Glucagon Blood Test?

The normal range of glucagon levels in the blood is 50 to 100 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL).

What Do the Test Results Mean?

The normal range of the tests slightly varies from one laboratory to another. Abnormal values of the test indicate that the person may have one of the below-mentioned conditions, which include:

  1. Hypoglycemia (a condition in which blood glucose levels become very low).

  2. Mild diabetes.

  3. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.

  4. Tumor of the pancreas.

What Is the Expected Turnaround Time for Receiving the Results?

Due to the extensive number of chemicals to check, the laboratories may take six to eight weeks to analyze the child's blood samples. Individuals will receive their child’s test results at their next outpatient appointment at the hospital. The hospital will contact the GP if the child needs to start treatment before the appointment.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Test?

The test involves very few risks, as only a small quantity of blood is drawn. However, specific risks that can occur are:

  • Difficulty in locating the vein leads to multiple punctures.

  • Light bruising or bleeding at the site.

  • Hematoma is when there is a build-up of blood under the skin.

  • Lightheadedness or a fainting sensation.

  • There is a slight risk of infection due to broken skin.

What Are the Points to Be Noted After the Test?

Glucagon blood and glucagon stimulation tests may have similar names but are altogether different tests. A glucagon blood test is done to determine glucagon levels in the blood. In contrast, the glucagon stimulation test is done to determine growth hormone (GH) levels, a hormone necessary to complete expected growth in children.

If glucagon levels are abnormal, the doctor may recommend other tests to help diagnose the cause of the condition and provide a treatment plan. The patient can also inquire about the long-term outlook of the condition.

Conclusion:

Glucagon and insulin are the essential hormones that help regulate the body's blood sugar levels. Any frequent episodes of high or low blood sugar need to be addressed by the doctor who conducts a systematic diagnosis to know whether the recurring symptoms are due to glucagon levels or any other underlying cause. If the patient is under insulin treatment for diabetes, they must carry emergency glucagon on the doctor's advice. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular visits with the doctor can help keep symptoms under control.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Describe the Normal Range of Glucagon

The normal range of blood glucagon is 50 to 100 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL). In a normal body state, circulating glucagon concentrations are in the mentioned range. However, during exercise, circulating glucagon levels may increase up to four times the basal levels. It ensures the body’s glucose requirement.

2.

Explain the Consequences of High Glucagon Levels.

Excess glucagon prompts free circulation of glucose in the bloodstream. As a result, the cells do not store glucose. It leads to a condition called glucagonoma. Glucagonoma further leads to diabetes-like symptoms, including high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), excessive thirst (polydipsia), and eating due to increased hunger (polyphagia).

3.

Explain the Consequences of Low Glucagon Levels.

Low glucagon is one of the main causes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). It is a condition marked by diminished levels of blood glucose. Glucagon deficiency produces many symptoms. However, the principal problem arises from an insufficient supply of glucose in the brain, leading to impaired mental function.

4.

Glucagon Deficiency Leads to Which Disease?

Glucagon deficiency is the abnormally low plasma concentration of bioactive glucagon. Reduced glucagon response can promote severe hypoglycemia. In this condition, the blood sugar level drops to a level lower than normal. As a result, it can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, or irritability.

5.

Are Diabetes and Glucagon Related?

Glucagon increases blood sugar levels (insulin reduces blood levels). If the pancreas does not make adequate insulin, one can suffer from high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). As a result, hyperglycemia leads to diabetes mellitus. Hence, diabetes and glucagon are indirectly related.

6.

Which Diet Causes Increased Glucagon Levels?

The glucagon release is stimulated by low blood glucose, adrenaline (a hormone that counters low glucose levels), and high-protein meals. Eating meals rich in lean protein, low-glycemic foods, carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats keeps blood sugar levels stable and increases glucagon levels. Further, they also burn fat (as glucagon works in opposition to insulin).

7.

High Glucagon Levels Cause Which Disease?

 
High glucagon levels cause a disease called glucagonoma. Glucagonoma is a rare pancreatic tumor. Glucagonoma tumor cells produce high amounts of glucagon that can cause life-threatening symptoms. These include unintentional weight loss, excessive urination, thirst and hunger, and diarrhea. 

8.

Can Glucagon Levels Be Controlled?

Changes in blood sugar levels can affect normal body functioning. To maintain steady blood sugar levels, the body produces a hormone called glucagon while sleeping and after eating. One can correct glucagon levels with sugar, sweet drinks, or glucose tablets.

9.

Glucagon Is Produced by Which Organ?

 
The alpha cells of the pancreas mainly secrete glucagon that converts the stored glycogen into glucose and releases it into circulation. It is also produced in minor quantities in the brain stem neurons and hypothalamus. Glucagon is secreted due to hypoglycemia, fasting, exercise, and protein-rich meals. 

10.

Is Glucagon High in Diabetics?

In healthy individuals, glucagon and insulin maintain normal blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetics have insulin deficiency and elevated glucagon levels. It is because glucagon opposes the effects of insulin by prompting the liver to release stored glucose into the blood.

11.

Is Diabetes a Result of High Glucagon Levels?

Glucagon plays a vital role in the causation of diabetes. It is because elevated glucagon levels stimulate glucose production in the liver. As a result, it contributes to diabetic hyperglycemia. Furthermore, glucagon levels are high in many patients with poorly controlled diabetes mellitus.

12.

Is Glucagon Secretion Increased During Fasting?

Glucagon is produced to maintain blood glucose levels while fasting and to increase very low glucose levels. It is because the blood glucose levels decline during fasting. Hence, the alpha cells of the pancreas secrete increased amounts of glucagon. A fasting state also reduces insulin secretion, which in turn decreases glucose storage.

13.

Describe the Major Role of Glucagon in the Body.

Glucagon is a peptide (protein) hormone that counteracts insulin by stimulating hepatic (liver) glucose production. Insulin decreases blood glucose levels. Hence, glucagon acts by increasing blood glucose levels by glycogen breakdown. It also converts amino acids into glucose. Finally, it breaks down stored fat (triglycerides) for use as energy by cells.

14.

What Are the Ways to a Healthy Functioning Pancreas?

The pancreas regulates the sugar processing in the body. It also releases many enzymes for food digestion. Some ways to ensure the smooth functioning of the pancreas are:
- Avoid excessive alcohol intake.
- Quit smoking, tobacco, and substance abuse. 
- Follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

15.

Is There a Need for Glucagon in Type 2 Diabetes?

Blood glucagon concentrations are inadequately increased in type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetics are on insulin therapy. Long-term insulin therapy can cause a hypoglycemic state in diabetic patients. Furthermore, these patients are prone to hypoglycemic episodes. Hence, to combat severe hypoglycemia, a quick dose of glucagon can be administered.

16.

Does Glucagon Have Any Side Effects?

Glucagon injection is an emergency medicine for severe hypoglycemia in diabetic patients. Some side effects associated with glucagon use are nausea, vomiting, headache, watery eyes, nasal congestion, skin rash, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, increased pulse, allergic reactions, and coma.

17.

Are Insulin and Glucagon the Same?

Insulin and glucagon are different hormones that function together to regulate blood sugar levels. As a result, they ensure that the body has a constant energy supply. The pancreas secretes insulin to augment glucose entry in muscle, fat, and liver. In these structures, glucose is used as energy. However, glucagon contradicts the actions of insulin by releasing glucose into the bloodstream from these structures.
Dr. Shaikh Sadaf
Dr. Shaikh Sadaf

Endocrinology

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hypoglycemia
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