Glucagon

Definition 
A glucagon test measures the amount of glucagon in the blood.

How the test is performed 

Blood is drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The puncture site is cleaned with antiseptic. An elastic band is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and cause the vein to swell with blood.

A needle is inserted into the vein, and the blood is collected in an air-tight vial or a syringe. During the procedure, the band is removed to restore circulation. 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:
The area is cleansed with antiseptic and punctured with a sharp needle or a lancet. The blood may be collected in a pipette (small glass tube), on a slide, onto a test strip, or into a small container. A bandage may be applied to the puncture site if there is any bleeding.

Radioimmunoassay (RIA) is a specific laboratory technique.

How to prepare for the test 
There is no special preparation.

Infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this test depends on your child’s age, previous experiences, and level of trust. For general information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics:

     
  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

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 levels may be measured in persons who show symptoms of mild diabetes, unexplained weight loss, or a particular skin rash (necrolytic migratory erythema).

Glucagon is a hormone that is produced by cells in the pancreas. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels. As the level of blood sugar is decreased, the pancreas releases more glucagon, and vice versa. The hormone acts by stimulating the liver to release glucose.

In a rare syndrome, a pancreatic tumor can produce excess glucagon.

Normal Values  
The normal range is 50 to 100 pg/ml. Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories.

Note: pg/ml = picograms per milliliter

What abnormal results mean  

Abnormal glucagon levels may indicate:

     
  • Pancreatic tumor- glucagonoma (glucagon-secreting tumor)  
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) I

What the risks are  

     
  • Excessive bleeding  
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded  
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)  
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)  
  • Multiple punctures to locate veins

Special considerations 
Veins and arteries 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.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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