What is a glucagon blood test?
This test measures the amount of glucagon in the blood. Glucagon is a hormone made by the pancreas. It helps control your body's level of glucose (blood sugar). Glucose is your body's main source of energy. When glucose levels drop, the pancreas releases glucagon into the bloodstream. This triggers the production of glucose. As glucose levels rise, less glucagon is released. If the pancreas doesn't release the right amount of glucagon, it can lead to serious health problems.
Other names: glucagon blood test, hypoglycemia-glucagon test, glucagon-plasma
What is it used for?
A glucagon test is most often used to help diagnose the following conditions:
- Hypoglycemia, a condition in which your glucose levels are lower than normal. Severe hypoglycemia can be deadly if it's not treated. The condition often affects people with diabetes. It can happen when diabetes medicine and/or food intake are not at the right levels.
- Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. It can be acute or chronic. Acute means it appears suddenly and lasts for several days. Symptoms of acute pancreatitis are more severe and may require immediate medical attention. Chronic pancreatitis is a long-term condition. It gets worse over time and can lead to permanent damage. Symptoms may not appear until there are complications.
- Glucagonoma, a rare type of tumor of the pancreas
The test is sometimes used to monitor people with diabetes.
Why do I need a glucagon blood test?
You may need this test if you have symptoms of hypoglycemia or a pancreatic tumor.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Tingling in the lips, tongue, or cheeks
- Blurred vision
- Pale skin
Symptoms of a pancreatic tumor include:
What happens during a glucagon blood test?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before the test.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
If your glucagon levels were not in the normal range, it may mean you have one of the following conditions:
- Acute or chronic pancreatitis
- Glucagonoma (pancreatic tumor)
If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
Is there anything else I need to know about a glucagon blood test?
A glucagon blood test and a test called a glucagon stimulation test are both often called glucagon tests. But they are not the same thing. A glucagon blood test is used to check conditions related to glucose levels. A glucagon stimulation test checks for problems with growth hormones. It is most often used for infants and children.
- American Diabetes Association [Internet]. Arlington (VA): American Diabetes Association; c1995–2021. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar); [cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia
- DoveMed [Internet]. DoveMed; c2020. Glucagon Blood Test; [updated 2019 May 26; cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.dovemed.com/common-procedures/procedures-laboratory/glucagon-blood-test
- Hinkle J, Cheever K. Brunner & Suddarth's Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. 2nd Ed, Kindle. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; c2014. Glucagon, Plasma; p. 316.
- Hormone Health Network [Internet]. Endocrine Society; c2021. What is Glucagon?; [updated 2018 Nov; cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/glucagon
- Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2021. Hypoglycemia: Symptoms and causes; 2020 Mar 13 [cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373685
- Mayo Clinic Laboratories [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1995–2021. Test ID: GLP: Glucagon, Plasma: Clinical and Interpretive; [cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/9358
- National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors) Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version; [updated 2020 Feb 17; cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/patient/pnet-treatment-pdq
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Blood Tests; [cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-tests
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Symptoms and Causes of Pancreatitis; 2017 Nov [cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/pancreatitis/symptoms-causes
- UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. Gainesville (FL): University of Florida Health; c2021. Glucagon blood test: Overview; [updated 2021 Feb 19; cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://ufhealth.org/glucagon-blood-test
- University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2021. Health Encyclopedia: Growth Hormone with Stimulation (Blood); [cited 2021 Feb 19]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=growth_hormone_blood_stimulation