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Glucagon test

A glucagon test measures the amount of a hormone called glucagon in your blood. Glucagon is produced by cells in the pancreas. It helps control blood sugar levels.

How the test is performed

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

  • The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic).
  • The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm. This is done to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.
  • The health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle.
  • The elastic band is removed from your arm.
  • Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed. The puncture site is covered with a bandage to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin to draw blood. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

The blood is sent to a laboratory. There, a test called radioimmunoassay (RIA) is used to check for the hormone glucagon in the blood.

How to prepare for the test

Your health care provider will tell you if you need to fast (not eat anything) for a period of time before the test.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

Glucagon stimulates the liver to release glucose. As the level of blood sugar decreases, the pancreas releases more glucagon, and vice versa.

The health care provider may measure glucagon level if a person has symptoms of:

Normal Values

The normal range is 50 - 100 pg/mL.

Note: pg/mL = picograms per milliliter

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may indicate that the person may have a condition described above under Why the Test Is Performed.

What the risks are

Veins vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Updated: 12/22/2012

Nestoras Mathioudakis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Endocrinology & Metabolism, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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