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Glucagon in tricyclic overdose
  1. S Teece, Clinical Research Fellow,
  2. K Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK; kevin.mackway-jones{at}


    A short cut review was carried out to establish whether the addition of glucagon to standard treatments improves clinical outcome in patients who have taken an overdose of tricyclic antidepressants. Altogether 31 papers were found using the reported search, of which three presented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results, and study weaknesses of these best papers are tabulated. A clinical bottom line is stated.

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    Report by S Teece,Clinical Research FellowChecked by K Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow

    Clinical scenario

    A 27 year old woman attends the emergency department with a suspected amitrptyline overdose. She has a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 7, is trypsilating, and has a broad complex tachycardia with a blood pressure of 70/30. After intubation and ventilation and sodium bicarbonate she remains tachycardic at 130 although her complexes have narrowed somewhat and her blood pressure is still low at 80/40. You have heard that tricyclic overdoses may respond to glucagon and wonder whether there is any evidence for this.

    Three part question

    In [overdose with tricyclic antidepressants] does [the addition of glucagon to standard treatments] improve [clinical outcome]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966–02/03 using the OVID interface. [(exp antidepressive agents OR exp antidepressive agents, tricyclic OR exp desipramine OR exp amitriptyline OR tricyc$.af. OR OR OR OR OR OR OR OR OR AND (exp glucagon OR] LIMIT to human AND English.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 31 papers found, 28 failed to answer the three part question, the three relevant papers are case reports summarised in table 2.

    Table 2


    Although all three patients received multiple treatments the authors state the improvement in condition was immediately after high dose glucagon administration. No reports of failure to respond to glucagon are found in the literature. This is most probably attributable to reporting and publication bias. Further research is required.

    Clinical bottom line

    There is not enough evidence currently available to support the use of glucagon in tricyclic overdose.

    Report by S Teece,Clinical Research FellowChecked by K Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow