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Glucagon Blood Test - Conditions, Test Results, and Risks

Published on Jul 18, 2022 and last reviewed on Jan 23, 2023   -  5 min read


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

Glucagon Blood Test - Conditions, Test Results, and Risks


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 the 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 stored is used when the 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 taking up glucose from the blood, which helps 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 glucagon regulation problems.

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 in which the 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 stays 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 managed by synthetic insulin administration. As the glucagon levels also remain low due to damage to the pancreas, the insulin triggers hypoglycemic episodes.

  • Glucagonoma: A rare tumor in the pancreas that leads to a 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: Replacement of the healthy liver tissue with scar tissue is called liver cirrhosis. It is a late-stage disease of the liver. Cirrhosis restricts the action of glucagon, thereby 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.

When Is a Glucagon Blood Test Advised?

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

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 health care professional will insert a small needle into the arm's vein and draw 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 that include:

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

  2. Mild diabetes.

  3. Pancreatitis in which there is inflammation of the pancreas.

  4. Tumor of the pancreas.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Test?

There are very few risks involved in the test as only a small quantity of blood is drawn. However, specific risks that can occur are:

  • Difficulty in locating the vein that leads to multiple punctures.

  • Light bruising or bleeding at the site.

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

  • Lightheadedness or a fainting sensation.

  • A slight risk of infection due to broken skin.

What Are the Points to Be Noted After the Test?

Glucagon blood test and glucagon stimulation test 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.

In case of abnormal glucagon levels, the doctor may advise other tests that further help diagnose the cause of the condition and provide a treatment plan. The patient can also enquire about the long-term outlook of the condition.


Glucagon and insulin are the essential hormones that help regulate the body's blood sugar levels. Any frequent episodes of high or low blood sugars 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 to keep symptoms under control.


Last reviewed at:
23 Jan 2023  -  5 min read




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