Objective: The insulin tolerance test (ITT) is usually regarded as the 'gold standard' for the assessment of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (growth hormone (GH) and ACTH) but must be used with caution and is contra-indicated in certain groups of patients. The glucagon stimulation test (GST) has previously been shown to be a good alternative when the ITT is contra-indicated and like the ITT stimulates both GH and ACTH secretion. There is however limited data on the use of the GST in patients with hypothalamic-pituitary disease.
Design and patients: An audit of 500 GST was performed in 374 patients with hypothalamic-pituitary disease. Glucagon was administered via the subcutaneous route and bloods were taken at times 0 90 120 150 180 210 and 240 minutes.
Results: In the vast majority peak GH (84.4%) and cortisol (93%) responses occurred between 120 and 180 minutes Little information was obtained from the 240 minute sample. The medical supervision required was minimal and the side-effects encountered during this test were mild; 20% of the tests were associated with nausea occasionally with vomiting sweating or headaches. Four patients fainted but recovered quickly.
Conclusions: This large audit has shown that the glucose stimulation test is well tolerated and can easily be performed in an out-patient setting with minimal medical supervision. The 240 minute sample added little additional information and could be omitted.