Your pancreas makes the hormone glucagon. While insulin works to reduce high
levels of glucose in your bloodstream, glucagon helps prevent your blood glucose
levels from becoming too low.
When glucose levels in your bloodstream drop, your pancreas releases
glucagon. Once it’s in your bloodstream, glucagon stimulates the breakdown of
glycogen, which your body stores in your liver. Glycogen breaks down into
glucose, which goes into your bloodstream. This helps maintain normal blood
glucose levels and cellular function.
Your doctor can use a glucagon test to
measure the amount of glucagon in your bloodstream.
is the test ordered?
Glucagon is a hormone that helps regulate your blood glucose levels. If you
have wide fluctuations in your blood glucose levels, you may have problems with
glucagon regulation. For example, hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, may be a
sign of abnormal glucagon levels.
If you have the following symptoms, your doctor may order a glucagon test:
- mild diabetes
- a skin rash
known as necrolytic migratory erythema
These symptoms commonly occur with pancreatic disorders that cause an overproduction
of glucagon. Given the unique specificity of these symptoms, doctors don’t
routinely order glucagon tests as part of annual physical exams. In other
words, your doctor will only order the test if they suspect you have problems with
your glucagon regulation.
are the advantages of the test?
The glucagon test can help your doctor identify the presence of diseases that
occur with excess glucagon production. Although diseases due to abnormal
glucagon levels are rare, elevated levels are often associated with specific
For instance, elevated glucagon levels may be the result of a pancreatic
tumor, called a glucagonoma. This type of tumor produces excess glucagon,
which can cause you to develop diabetes. Other symptoms of a glucagonoma can
include unexplained weight loss, necrolytic migratory erythema, and mild
diabetes. If you have mild diabetes, your doctor can use the glucagon test to
rule out the presence of glucagonoma as the cause of the disease.
Your doctor can also use the glucagon test measure your glucose control if you’ve
developed type 2 diabetes or if you may be insulin resistant. If you have
either of these conditions, your glucagon levels will likely be high.
Effectively controlling your blood sugar levels will help you maintain normal
levels of glucagon.
What are the risks of
The glucagon test is a blood test. It carries minimal risks, which are
common to all blood tests. These risks include:
- the need for
multiple needle sticks if there’s difficulty obtaining a sample
bleeding at the needle site
- the accumulation
of blood under your skin at the needle site, known as a hematoma
- infection at the
How do you prepare
for the test?
You probably won’t need to do anything to prepare for the glucagon test.
However, your doctor may advise you to fast beforehand depending on any health
conditions you have and the purpose of the test. While fasting, you’ll need to
abstain from food for a certain amount of time. For example, you may need to
fast for eight to 12 hours before you give a blood sample.
What to expect during
Your doctor will perform this test on a blood sample. You’ll likely give a
blood sample in a clinical setting, such as your doctor’s office. A healthcare
provider will probably take the blood from a vein in your arm using a needle. They’ll
collect it in a tube and send it to a lab for analysis. Once the results are available,
your doctor can provide you with more information about the results and what
What do your results mean?
The normal glucagon level range is 50 to 100 picograms/milliliter. Normal
value ranges can vary slightly from one lab to another, and different
labs may use different measurements. Your doctor should consider the results of
your glucagon test with other blood and diagnostic test results to make a
What are the next steps?
If your glucagon levels are abnormal, your doctor may perform other tests or
evaluations to learn why. Once your doctor has diagnosed the cause, they can
prescribe an appropriate treatment plan. Ask your doctor for more information
about your specific diagnosis, treatment plan, and long-term outlook.