When you don’t live with type 1 diabetes (T1D), skipping a meal when you’re sick is generally safe. However, if you’re ill and living with T1D, skipping a meal or vomiting after a meal leads to a high risk of hypoglycemia.
What is glucagon?
Glucagon is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas’s alpha cells and that has a blood-sugar raising effect. When blood sugar levels are low, this hormone sends a signal to the liver to release stored glucose. Glucagon’s role in blood sugar management is usually not as important as insulin’s role, regardless of whether you live with T1D or not. But if you experience severe hypoglycemia, administering an extra dose of glucagon is an excellent emergency treatment.
A study on the use of glucagon to prevent hypoglycemia
A team of researchers in Italy looked at how glucagon could prevent hypoglycemia in children with T1D when they are ill. With a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system, they monitored the blood sugar levels and trends in children who had vomited after having received their insulin. First, parents were asked to follow the usual methods to prevent hypoglycemia (e.g., decrease the insulin basal rate, give carb-containing liquids), and then to follow the researchers’ instructions to administer small subcutaneous doses of glucagon to their children.
Glucagon successfully prevented hypoglycemia in children for 1–2 hours after the insulin was injected. But when blood sugar levels were already trending low, hypoglycemia couldn’t be prevented.
Gaining new insights through clinical research
The Italian study’s results are only preliminary and don’t lead to any scientific conclusions. But it’s certainly interesting to discover potential new ways to prevent hypoglycemia. The unusual use of glucagon in this study hints at the possibility that the hormone could be used in new ways.
- When a child with T1D eats less than anticipated or refuses to eat after getting an insulin injection
- When too much insulin is administered
- When fasting with T1D
Reducing hypoglycemia in people with type 1 diabetes is integral to the BETTER project.
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- Tinti, D., & Rabbone, I. (2019). Mini-doses of glucagon to prevent hypoglycemia in children with type 1 diabetes refusing food: a case series. Acta Diabetologica, 57(3), 359–365. doi: 10.1007/s00592-019-01443-1