What is Glucagon?
First of all, what is hypoglycemia?
Hypoglycemia–or low blood sugar–is a condition that many people with diabetes develop, especially if they are on insulin. If left untreated, hypoglycemia is serious or even fatal.
How is it treated? Most of the time, a sugary snack can treat low blood sugar. The goal is to eat 15-20 grams of glucose and to recheck your blood sugar in 15 minutes. Great options for this include ~4 glucose tablets, 8 ounces of milk, or 4 ounces of fruit juice. These are good because they will increase your sugar while not making it go too high.
What if hypoglycemia can’t be treated by just consuming sugar?
That’s where glucagon comes into play. Glucagon is a hormone that is released by the pancreas (just like insulin!). When a person with diabetes experiences sugar levels that are too high, insulin is used to help lower the amount of glucose circulating through the body. The job of glucagon is to act as the opposite of insulin by raising the amount of glucose.
Even though glucagon is made naturally by the body, the hormone is also available as a medication for times when a person’s blood sugar levels drop to a dangerously low level. For people with type 1 diabetes, this medication is a must-have in every emergency kit, according to the American Diabetes Association. Glucagon should be given if your sugar is below 54 and/or you are unable to take in glucose/sugar by yourself.
How can you take glucagon?
Glucagon kits are available through a prescription from your doctor. Since FDA approval in 2019, glucagon is now available in three different forms: an injection that you have to mix, a prefilled injection, or a nasal powder. Mixing an injection, or using glucagon nasally, is normally done by someone other than the patient. The two newer options, prefilled injection (GVoke) and nasal powder (Baqsimi), are very easy to use with >90% correct administration with minimal instruction.
Hypoglycemia is a very serious condition that people with diabetes can experience. However, it is usually very easy to treat with a quick sugar rich snack! If that is not enough, glucagon can be prescribed by your doctor. Glucagon can be given by injection or nasally and is a great way to keep your blood sugar up in extreme hypo situations.