Why Glucagon is a Must-Have for Sick Days with Diabetes
Editor’s Note: This content has been verified by Marina Basina, MD, a clinical associate professor at Stanford University. She’s a clinical endocrinologist and researcher with a focus on diabetes management and diabetes technology. Dr. Basina is an active member of multiple medical advisory boards and community diabetes organizations, and she is on the Beyond Type 1 Science Advisory Council.
Becoming sick when you have type 1 diabetes can easily complicate things. When you have the flu or a serious bacterial infection, your blood sugar levels can quickly become harder to manage, as they typically trend higher because of your body’s automatic, hormonal response to being sick. Because of this, you might find yourself needing more insulin than usual and needing to check for ketones more often to prevent diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Having a plan for sick day management when you have type 1 diabetes is crucial.
It’s important to be mindful of the possibility of high blood sugar when you’re sick. But it is also important to realize that sick day lows are a definite possibility as well! Especially if you’re taking more insulin than normal to combat highs when sick, you have to be mindful of resulting lows. You also run the risk of encountering a severe low if you are either unable to keep food down or lack an appetite when you’re sick, which are common realities when you have a cold or flu.
Whatever the reason for a low, keeping glucagon handy to combat severe bouts of hypoglycemia on a sick day is definitely a must. Severe hypoglycemia is a dangerous complication of type 1 that can result in seizure, loss of consciousness, or death, and there is peace of mind in having a safety net to prevent any one of those outcomes.
Glucagon is the first line treatment for severe hypoglycemia because it is the main counter-regulatory hormone to insulin. Parents and caretakers of those with type 1 can especially benefit by having an immediate safeguard against the dangers realities of a severe low.
The standard of care has been to keep a glucagon emergency kit handy. Historically, these emergency kits came equipped with an injectable form of glucagon, that requires mixing powder and liquid with a syringe by whoever is administering the shot.
While this can definitely be an effective form of glucagon, having to mix the shot prior has made the procedure complicated and intimidating for some.
Types of glucagon available today
While there was only one option for decades—and it was complicated to use—here are many new and improved emergency glucagon treatment products available today, including:
- Nasal glucagon – Baqsimi®: This is an emergency glucagon that’s administered through your nose.
- Glucagon pen – Gvoke HypoPen®: This is a premixed glucagon injection that you press against your thigh. The auto-inject device makes it quick and easy to use. It is also available in a prefilled syringe (PFS).
- Glucagon vial & syringe – Gvoke Kit®: This is a premixed glucagon in a vial that comes with a syringe, allowing you to draw up the dose manually and inject it directly into your thigh.
- Glucagon pen – Zegalogue®: Also a premixed glucagon, available as an easy-to-use auto-inject device. It is also available in a prefilled syringe (PFS).
Gvoke, Zegalogue and Baqsimi do not require refrigeration; Zegalogue has a shelf life of 12 months while Gvoke and Baqsimi each have a shelf life of up to two years if kept at room temperature. Another added benefit of these next generation iterations of glucagon is that these tools can likely prevent an ambulance trip to the hospital, saving time and resources. (Editor’s Note: This is especially important during the current COVID-19 pandemic, as it is not advised to visit hospitals unless absolutely necessary.)
How to get glucagon
- Lilly currently offers a Baqsimi coupon patients can use to get up to two devices for as little as $25.
- Zealand Pharma offers a Zegalogue coupon patients can use to get two doses for as little as $25.
- Xeris is offering a Gvoke $0 co-pay card for a limited time with which some patients can pay as little as $0 with eligible insurance to get their Gvoke HypoPen. Patients can also opt to request their prescription through the website and have Gvoke HypoPen delivered by PillPack at no additional cost.
Keeping glucagon handy is the best defense against unexpected lows when you’re not feeling well. Being sick might come with some uncertainties and cause some worry, but you can rest easier knowing you’re prepared and equipped with the necessary tools to take on whatever comes your way.
For step by step instructions on how to use each type of emergency glucagon, click here.
Check out another piece about sick days + T1D management—Cold and Flu and What To Do.
This article was made possible with support from Xeris Pharmaceuticals, an active partner of Beyond Type 1 at the time of publication.