Glucagon is a hormone which is produced by the alpha cells of the pancreas. When blood glucose levels fall too low, glucagon raises the levels of glucose in the blood by converting stored glycogen in the liver to glucose.
Insulin is also hormone but is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. The action of insulin is to decrease levels of glucose in the blood stream.
Glucagon’s effects are the opposite to insulin and both of these hormones work together to keep our blood glucose levels balanced and at a safe range.
Glucagon is released to stop blood glucose levels from becoming too low, the pancreas will release glucagon which can stimulate the liver to release glucose, giving our cells an important source of energy. Glucose and insulin are two hormones, released from the pancreas, that work together to keep our blood glucose levels in a safe range.
Glucagon can also be released by the pancreas when the body needs additional or extra glucose, for example during vigorous or intense exercise.
The action of glucagon includes to:
It’s important to note that glucose is the body’s preferred energy source.
The symptoms of low blood glucose levels, also called hypoglycaemia, can vary from person to person. Low blood glucose levels is more common in people with diabetes. The symptoms of hypoglycaemia can be mild, for example sweating or feeling hungry, or they can be severe, for example passing out or fainting.
Early symptoms of hypoglycaemia include:
If left untreated, symptoms of hypoglycaemia can become serious. This includes:
There are some risk factors for hypoglycaemia. These include:
To be diagnosed with low blood glucose levels, you must exhibit symptoms of low blood glucose levels, as well as:
Your doctor may perform some tests to confirm if you have low blood glucose levels, for example a blood test.
Blood glucose levels are measured in millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/L) or milligrams per decilitre of blood (mg/dL) depending on which area of the world you live in. Blood glucose level targets also differ depending on your age, how long you have had diabetes for, what types of medications you are taking, and if you have any other medical conditions in addition to diabetes. Your doctor will take off of this into consideration when determining what your blood glucose level targets are.
Normal blood glucose levels are between 4.0-7.8mmol/L or 72-140mg/dL.
|Before meals||4-8 mmol/L||72-145 mg/dL|
|After meals||less than 10mmol/L||180 mg/dL|
|Before meals||6-8 mmol/L||106-145 mg/dL|
|After meals||6-10mmol/L||106-180 mg/dL|
In people who have diabetes, glucagon can help to raise blood glucose levels when blood glucose levels become too low. However, glucagon may cause blood glucose levels to become too high and this may be caused by not enough insulin present to help glucose go from in the blood stream into the cells. This may be the case for people with type 2 diabetes as they are insulin resistant. In people with type 1 diabetes, high levels of insulin may inhibit the release and action of glucagon.
Glucagon can be administered via an injection in response to an episode of severe hypoglycaemia.
Glucagon injection kits can be used to treat episodes of severe hypoglycaemia. These kits are designed to be used by a carer or family member of someone who has diabetes, who is unable to treat themselves during a hypoglycaemic event or oral treatment, i.e. jelly beans, has been unsuccessful.
Once injected, the glucagon is absorbed into the blood stream and travels to the liver where it can signal for the liver to release stored glucose (glycogen). Once glucose is released from the liver, it enters the bloodstream, raising your blood glucose levels. It can take approximately 10-15 minutes for blood glucose levels to rise back to a safe level.
The glucagon kit comes with a syringe, and a vial of powder and a vial of liquid. There are instructions for how to mix the liquid and powder together within the kit. Before administering the glucagon injection, you should first put the person into the recovery position, where the person is laying on their side.
The basic instructions are as follows:
After a person recovers following a glucagon injection, try to feed them some fast-acting glucose, for example fruit juice, following by longer acting carbohydrates, for example fruit, bread, or crackers.
It’s important to keep an emergency glucagon kit with your other diabetes supplies in case of an emergency. It’s a good idea to have more than emergency kit, for example having one on you while you’re away from home, as well as keeping some with close relatives or friends, or in places where you and your child spend a lot of time. If you keep any glucagon kits with friends, family, at school or work, make sure that other people know where the kits are and how to use them.
Some examples of where emergency glucagon kits can be kept include: