Glucagon is a hormone released from the pancreas that, in combination with insulin, works to control blood glucose. Glucagon increases blood glucose levels, converting stored glycogen in the liver into glucose.
The hormone is also available in an injectable form for treating very low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). If not treated quickly, hypoglycemia can lead to a variety of issues, including poor coordination, confusion, seizures, loss of consciousness and, in severe cases, even brain damage or death. An injection of glucagon quickly releases extra glucose from storage in the liver to correct the hypoglycemia.
Unlike other treatments for diabetes, glucagon is often given after the person has lost consciousness. It is important that relatives, friends and others in close contact know when and how to give the medication. This medication should not be used except in an emergency. (Click here to learn what else to consider including in a diabetes emergency kit.)
Your doctor will prescribe a glucagon kit containing glucagon in a powder form, sterile liquid to dilute the medicine and a syringe to inject it. You should keep it nearby at all times.
Your kit can safely be stored at room temperature. Each kit has an expiration date — it is recommended you mark that date on your calendar to know when replacement is needed.
Glucagon should be used when blood glucose falls below 50 mg/dl and you can’t eat or drink because of confusion, disorientation, unconsciousness or having seizures.
When possible, blood sugar sugar be checked before administering the glucagon to make sure it is low. A person can also lose consciousness from high blood sugar, in which case glucagon won’t help. If there is no way to check the glucose level and a person is showing the symptoms outlined above, the glucagon should be given.
When administering the medication, open the kit. Take out the vial containing the powder and flip off the cap. Next, remove the cap on the syringe, which also contains the liquid. Insert the needle into the rubber top of the vial and push down on the plunger, injecting all of the liquid.
Keeping the needle in the vial, gently shake or roll the container. The powder should be completely dissolved and the solution clear and colorless.
Draw the solution into the syringe. The vial with the medication should be above the syringe. Move the plunger back, drawing medication into the syringe.
The medication is given in a large muscle, usually the thigh or buttock. If possible, clean the injection site with an alcohol swab. Insert the needle into the skin in one quick motion straight up and down. Using your thumb, push the plunger down until all of the medication is administered. When empty, pull it straight out.
When you are done, put the person their side. This will keep them from choking if they vomit following the injection. Call 911 for further assistance.
Want to learn more about treating low blood sugar? Read “Understanding Hypoglycemia,” “Hypoglycemia Symptoms: Why a Short List Is Not Enough” and “Take a Bite Out of Hypoglycemia: 10 Strategies for Cutting Down on Low Blood Glucose.”