Why Glucagon is a Must for Sick Days
Editor’s Note: Get continuous updates about the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) here.
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.
Next level options
Luckily for those of us affected by T1D, glucagon has been approved in two new forms over the last year: nasal glucagon and pre-mixed steady state.
Baqsimi is the first and only nasal, non-injectable form of glucagon, offering a slight variation on what most people with diabetes are used to. It is administered like a nasal spray, but does not require inhalation, so even if a patient is unconscious (a frequent cause of severe hypoglycemia), anyone can administer Baqsimi and it will work.
Gvoke is the first liquid stable form of glucagon, meaning though it is an injection, it comes ready to use and requires no mixing on the part of whoever is administering the shot. Gvoke also comes in two forms: a pre-filled syringe (called Gvoke PFS) that is available to patients now and an auto-injector pen (the Gvoke HypoPen) that has yet to become officially available.
Neither Gvoke nor Baqsimi require refrigeration, and both have an impressive 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.
Through the end of April 2020, Xeris is offering a Gvoke co-pay card with which some patients can pay as little as $0 with eligible insurance to get their Gvoke PFS. Patients can also opt to request their prescription through the website and have Gvoke PFS 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.