What Is the Relationship between Glucagon and Diabetes?

Marjorie McAtee

Glucagon and diabetes are connected because glucagon is one of the hormones that the body produces to control blood sugar levels. The pancreas is responsible for producing glucagon and another hormone, insulin. Insulin helps the body use or store glucose, or blood sugar, while glucagon causes stored glucose to be released back into the blood. In healthy people, the release of these two hormones is how the body keeps blood sugar at normal levels.

If a diabetic person's blood sugar falls too low, they may lose consciousness.
If a diabetic person's blood sugar falls too low, they may lose consciousness.

Diabetes treatments with synthetic insulin can cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low, a condition known as hypoglycemia. The connection between glucagon and diabetes can be found when low blood sugar levels occur. When this occurs, the pancreas produces glucagon, stimulating the release of more glucose from the liver. Though high glucose levels in the blood can be dangerous, too little glucose in the blood is often considered more dangerous, since it can lead quickly to unconsciousness and death. Some researchers believe that the body's production of glucagon and diabetes occurrence may be related, on the theory that chronically elevated glucagon levels in the body could interfere with the body's production of, or ability to use, insulin.

Those with hypoglycemia have a blood sugar level that is below 70.
Those with hypoglycemia have a blood sugar level that is below 70.

Type 1 diabetics, who usually develop the disease early in life, suffer from an inability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetics, who usually develop the disease in late adulthood, often produce insulin, but their bodies typically lose the ability to use it to regulate blood sugar levels. If the body does not secrete or cannot use insulin, then blood sugar levels will generally remain abnormally high, leading to symptoms of diabetes. Synthetic insulin is normally used to treat type 1 diabetes, while type 2 diabetics may receive medications designed to help their bodies use insulin more efficiently. Doctors have capitalized on the connection between glucagon and diabetes by using glucagon to treat episodes of low blood sugar in diabetics.

If a diabetic person detects the symptoms of low blood sugar before consciousness is lost, a small snack can usually help to raise blood sugar levels back to within the safety zone. If the person loses consciousness, however, a synthetic glucagon injection can be administered to raise blood sugar levels. Diet, exercise and insulin therapy should generally still be used to help prevent excessively high blood sugar levels.

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