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Glucagon test

Definition

A glucagon test measures the amount of a hormone called glucagon in your blood. Glucagon is produced by cells in the pancreas. It helps control blood sugar levels.

How the test is performed

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

A specific laboratory technique called radioimmunoassay (RIA) is used to check for the hormone glucagon in the blood.

How to prepare for the test

Your health care provider will tell you if you need to fast for a period of time before the test.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

Glucagon stimulates the liver to release glucose. As the level of blood sugar decreases, the pancreas releases more glucagon, and vice versa.

Your health care provider may measure your glucagon levels if you show symptoms of:

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Mild diabetes
  • A skin rash called necrolytic migratory erythema
  • Unexplained weight loss

Normal Values

The normal range is 50 - 100 pg/mL.

Note: pg/mL = picograms per milliliter

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

  • Abnormal glucagon levels may be due to multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type I.
  • In a rare syndrome, a tumor in the pancreas called a glucagonoma can produce excess glucagon and cause diabetes.
  • People with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes often produce very high levels of glucagon.

What the risks are

Veins vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Review Date: 11/21/2010
Reviewed By: Ari S. Eckman, MD, Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Trinitas Regional Medical Center, Elizabeth, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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