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Glucagon infusion in refractory anaphylactic shock in patients on beta-blockers
  1. Martin Thomas, Specialist Registrar,
  2. Ian Crawford, Senior Clinical Fellow


    A short cut review was carried out to establish whether a glucagon infusion is of benefit in patients with refractory anaphylaxis. 62 papers were found using the reported search, of which two 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 Martin Thomas, Specialist RegistrarChecked by Ian Crawford, Senior Clinical Fellow

    Clinical scenario

    A 53 year old man attends the emergency department with a severe allergic reaction, having been stung by a wasp. You note that he takes atenolol for angina. Despite adequate treatment with adrenaline and intravenous fluids, he remains hypotensive and subsequently dies. Afterwards, you hear that a glucagon infusion may have been of benefit and wonder if there is any evidence for this.

    Three part question

    In [anaphylactic shock for patients on regular beta-blockers] does [the use of a glucagon infusion] improve [outcome]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966-12/04 using the OVID interface. ([exp Glucagon OR] AND [exp Hypersensitivity OR anaphyla$.af. OR allerg$.af]) LIMIT to human AND English language.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 62 papers were found, of which two were directly relevant to the three part question.


    Although there is a pathophysiological rationale for the use of glucagon in anaphylactic patients on beta-blockers the clinical evidence is limited to case reports only. This is not surprising as the situation rarely arises and it is probably unlikely that large series will be published. Although the two reports indicate success, such reports are subject to publication bias and as such should be interpreted with caution.


    Although the evidence is of limited quality, a glucagon infusion may be of benefit in anaphylactic shock for patients on regular beta-blockers when all other, more well-recognised, treatments have failed.

    Report by Martin Thomas, Specialist RegistrarChecked by Ian Crawford, Senior Clinical Fellow