Glucagon: Functions, Dosage & Side Effects

Glucagon is a hormone produced naturally in the body by the alpha cells of the islet of the pancreas, to help maintain glucose levels in the bloodstream when you’re fasting or just low on glucose supply. When you fast or live only on protein-rich meals, glucagon is released into the bloodstream to stimulate the body to use glucose stored in the liver and muscles for energy so it could continue to carry out its functions in a limited supply of glucose.

However, when your meals are rich in carbohydrate, the cells producing it detects this and stops. Like every other thing, there should be a balance in the amount of glucagon produced. There could be medical complications when it’s levels are either too high or too low.

There are medications made as a form of synthetic glucagon, used for treating certain medications related to it’s levels. The cells that produce it in the pancreas are surrounded by insulin-secreting cells, which goes to show the relationship between the 2 hormones. 


Glucagon is a hormone made in the pancreas that works along with other hormones to control your body’s blood sugar levels. It prevents the blood sugar level from falling low due to a lack of a limited supply of glucose in the body, by signaling the cells in your liver and muscles to convert glycogen to glucose and release it into your bloodstream so your cells will have the energy to continue bodily functions.

Glycogen is a substance made from glucose, that’s stored in the liver and muscle cells, to be used as energy when later in the future.

The use of glycogen as fuel in the body is a temporary process because in a case where you fast for a long time, the body could exhaust the amount of glycogen in its store. When this happens glucagon acts on your adipose tissues to stimulate the breakdown of the fat stored into fat that can be used as fuel. Simply put, glycogen is a hormone that ensures that the balance in your blood sugar levels is maintained.


The condition where your blood sugar level drops is known as hypoglycemia, and by releasing glucagon, your body ensures that your blood sugar levels are back up.

It controls blood sugar levels by:

  1. Stimulating your liver to convert stored glucose (glycogen) into glucose that can be used, via a process called glycogenolysis.
  2. Promoting the production of glucose from amino acid molecules through a process known as gluconeogenesis.
  3. Blocking the liver from taking in and storing glucose so that more glucose stays in your blood.

It also:

  • Reduces the production of bile acids
  • Increases energy use
  • Burns fat and reduces fat stores
  • Balances food intake
  • Increases satiety


As much as glycogen is important in bringing blood sugar levels to a balance, an over-secretion or an under-secretion of the hormone has consequences. The normal range of glucagon levels in the blood should between 50-100 pg/ml. an over-secretion is caused by a rare tumor of the pancreas called glucagonoma.

Under-secretion could be a result of:

  1. Diabetes: Type-1 and advanced type-2 diabetes, where the pancreas fails to produce insulin or the body fails to use the produced insulin and the body continues to secrete glucagon, over time, this can lead to low glucagon levels.
  2. Weight Loss: Weight loss due to diet or gastric bypass surgery can lower glucagon levels and improve insulin resistance, which may help people who are obese regain their sugar levels.
  3. Pancreas Removal Surgery: Since the hormone is produced by the cells in the pancreas, surgery such as this will most likely lead to glucagon deficiency.


Hypoglycemia is a severe condition of low blood sugar levels. People with this condition often need help from someone else to help them recover and they are often put on glucagon medication.

It’s medication is a type of synthetic form of the natural glucagon produced in the body. When administered, it triggers the release of stored glucose from the liver, to increase blood sugar levels, just as the natural hormone does. The medication may be given intravenously. Subcutaneous or intramuscular injection.

With hypoglycemia, a person may experience the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea 
  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Blurry vision
  • Vomiting 
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness


Glucagon injection is an emergency medication used in treating severe hypoglycemic conditions in diabetics who have passed out or are having a seizure. It belongs to the class of medicine called glucose elevating agents and it’s only available on prescription.

This injection can be used as a diagnostic aid in radiological examinations and also, to temporarily block movements in the gastrointestinal tract. This helps to improve the test result as glucagon can also relax smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, thereby slowing down its movement while the exam is carried out. You never know when you’ll fall into a hypoglycemic seizure, so you’ll be taught how to inject the glucose injection yourself.

The injection is given under the skin of your stomach, thighs, or upper arm. Glucagon injections are available as an autoinjector, prefilled syringe, vial, and syringe kit. Read and follow the instructions that come with it, and ask your doctor if you have any questions. The injection may be used when you’re unresponsive, having a seizure, or refusing to drink or swallow any form of sugar by mouth. 


If you ever experience a severe case of hypoglycemia, here’s how to inject glucagon injection:

  • The glucagon injection comes in a kit, usually containing a syringe filled with saline liquid, a small bottle of powder, and the patient’s prescription. Remove the protective top on the needle and that on the bottle of powder.
  • Push down the needle into the bottle of powder and push the saline liquid into the bottle.
  • Swirl the bottle gently to make sure the mixture is properly mixed and the powder dissolved. You’ll know this when you notice a clear liquid in the bottle.
  • There are different prescriptions for different patients, follow the dosing instruction on the kit and draw the right amount of the glucagon mixture into the needle.
  • Inject the mixture into the person’s thigh, upper arm, or buttock, and then roll them over to their side to ensure stability. Put them in a recovery position with their top knee at an angle

It takes about 15 minutes for a person to fully recover after receiving glucagon, but if after 15 minutes they are still not recovered, then another dose of the injection might be given or you may call for emergency medical assistance.


Dosing instructions differ for every patient. Your doctor will prescribe based on your age and the strength of the medicine. The number of shots you take every day and the time between your first shot and the next one depends on your doctor’s prescription, so follow their orders and don’t change unless told to do so.

However, the average doing of glucagon might look like this:

  • For adults and children who are 6 years or older and weighing 25kg or more, using the powder to solution injection form of glucagon – 1ml of the solution injected under the skin, into a muscle or a vein. While for children younger than 6 and weighing less than 25kg, the average dose is 0.5ml. the dosing may be repeated if after 15 minutes the patient doesn’t recover.
  • For adults and children 12 years or older using the autoinjector or prefilled syringe form – 1mg or 0.2 ml injected under the skin. An additional dose of 1mg or 0.2ml could be given when there is no response to the first dose after 15 minutes.


The side effects of glucagon are often mild. You may experience nausea and vomiting after receiving a dose, but keep in mind that those are also symptoms of severe hypoglycemia. According to reports from the FDA, you may also feel nasal congestion, watery eyes, and irritation of the upper respiratory tract.


Both insulin and glucagon are hormones produced in the body to help balance your blood sugar levels. While glucagon works when the body is low on glucose, insulin works when the body has glucose. When glucose comes into the blood through the food we eat, blood sugar level increases and this sends a signal to the pancreas to secrete more insulin.

The secreted insulin then signals the cells throughout the body to take insulin from the blood, and so glucose is distributed around the body. 4 to 6 hours after you’ve eaten, glucose in the blood has been distributed to the different cells of your body, blood sugar level goes down. Now glucagon is then secreted to counterbalance the actions of insulin.


Low sugar levels could be a severe condition and so it is important to be ready at all times. Consider telling the people you spend the most time with about your condition and what they can do to help when you have a seizure or blackout.

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