As diabetics, glucagon plays a vital role in part of our overall management and as I experienced a couple weeks ago, it can save your life. As a type 1 diabetic, I’m very well versed on how this works (unfortunately), and why it is so important and how it can keep us out of emergent situations or in my case, help you come out of a diabetic seizure.
So for all the newly diagnosed diabetics out there, young and old, what is glucagon? What is it so important that we should have it on us at all time, wherever we go? Lets take a closer look!
What Is Glucagon:
Glucagon is a hormone (like insulin) that is naturally made in the pancreas. The pancreas produces this hormone when the body needs to put more sugar (glucose) in the blood to be used for energy. Glucagon raises the blood sugar by sending a signal to the liver and muscles (where your body naturally stores glucose) to release glucose.
The difference between the two, is that insulin lowers your blood glucose (sugar) by helping your body use the glucose in the blood for energy. Glucagon raises your blood glucose (sugar) by causing the liver and muscles to release stored glucose quickly. Though glucagon helps raise the level of glucose in the blood, it is not considered a sugar.
In its simplest form per Lilly, one of the manufactures of glucagon kits:
Glucagon is a medicine that’s different from insulin. It’s used to treat severe low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Glucagon works by telling your body to release sugar into the bloodstream to bring the blood sugar level back up.
The Role In The Body:
Glucagon plays an active role in allowing the body to regulate the utilization of glucose and fats.
Glucagon is released in response to low blood glucose levels and to events whereby the body needs additional glucose, such as in response to vigorous exercise.
When glucagon is released it can perform the following tasks:
- Stimulating the liver to break down glycogen to be released into the blood as glucose
- Activating gluconeogenesis, the conversion of amino acids into glucose
- Breaking down stored fat (triglycerides) into fatty acids for use as fuel by cells
Insulin And Glucagon:
Glucagon is usually given by injection beneath the skin, in the muscle, or in the vein. It comes as a powder and liquid that will need to be mixed just before administering the dose. Instructions for mixing and giving the injection are in the package. Glucagon should be administered as soon as possible after discovering that the patient is unconscious from low blood sugar. After the injection, the patient should be turned onto the side to prevent choking if they vomit. Once the injection has been given, contact your doctor. It is very important that all patients have a household member who knows the symptoms of low blood sugar and how to administer glucagon.
If you have low blood sugar often, keep a glucagon kit with you at all times. You should be able to recognize some of the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar (i.e., shakiness, dizziness or lightheadedness, sweating, confusion, nervousness or irritability, sudden changes in behavior or mood, headache, numbness or tingling around the mouth, weakness, pale skin, sudden hunger, clumsy or jerky movements). Try to eat or drink a food or beverage with sugar in it, such as hard candy or fruit juice, before it is necessary to administer.
Follow the directions on your glucagon injection kit carefully, and ask your pharmacist or doctor to explain any part you or your household members do not understand. Use glucagon exactly as directed. Do not use more or less of it or use it more often than prescribed by your doctor.
How Should Glucagon Be Used On Adults & Children?
Per the Lilly kit:
- Act quickly. Prolonged unconsciousness may be harmful.
- Make sure your family and friends know to turn you on your side to prevent choking if you are unconscious.
- The contents of the syringe are inactive and must be mixed with the Glucagon in the accompanying bottle immediately before giving injection. Do not prepare Glucagon for Injection until you are ready to use it.
- Glucagon should not be used unless the solution is clear and of a water-like consistency.
- The usual adult dose is 1 mg (1 unit). For children weighing less than 44 lbs. (20 kg), give 1/2 adult dose (0.5 mg). For children, withdraw 1/2 of the solution from the bottle (0.5 mg mark on syringe). Discard unused portion.
- You should eat as soon as you awaken and are able to swallow. Inform a doctor or emergency services immediately.
On a side note, do not throw out old glucagon kits…they are a great way to practice or to teach family members how to administer (NOT on you or them though!). Grab a piece of fruit from the fridge, apples and oranges work great. Follow the instructions located in the glucagon kit and mimic an emergency situation. This is a great way to teach others and show them how to administer glucagon. This is how we showed my children in the event they ever needed to use it.
Possible Side Effects Of Glucagon:
Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
Also, for individuals who are hypoglycemic due to thyroid problems, they may also benefit from the use of glucagon injections. This is usually reserved for more extreme cases. However, a physician can evaluate the status of the condition and determine if glucagon injections should be introduced as part of your management protocol.
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