Thyroid function tests: often justified in the acutely ill

Ann Clin Biochem. 2000 Mar;37 ( Pt 2):158-64. doi: 10.1258/0004563001899159.


It is claimed that inappropriate requesting of thyroid function tests (TFTs) is common in acutely ill patients. Consecutive inpatient TFTs (n = 129) were assessed in relation to clinical history and common symptoms and signs of thyroid disease. Requests were justified in 69% of cases, most commonly on the basis of atrial fibrillation and/or tachycardia. There were no clear reasons for requesting TFTs in the remaining cases, although the yield of abnormal results in these patients was similar to that in those with justified requests. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) concentration was increased (median 7.5 mU/L, range 4.8-38.6 mU/L) in 22 patients, six of whom had biochemical and/or clinical evidence of hypothyroidism (previously undiagnosed) and five of whom had pre-existing hypothyroidism. Of the remaining 11 patients with increased TSH levels, three were confirmed to have compensated hypothyroidism; non-thyroidal illness (NTI) (including the effect of drugs) accounted for four cases. In four patients (one of whom died during the admission) follow-up was not possible. Of six patients with reduced TSH concentration (range <0.05-0.35 mU/L), one was thyrotoxic on carbimazole, one was receiving thyroxine for hypothyroidism, one had NTI and three were lost to follow-up (two of whom died during their admission). Manifestations of thyroid disease are protean and often subtle, and TFTs are thus clinically justified in many unwell inpatients. Although NTI contributes to some cases of abnormal TSH levels, a significant number of TFT abnormalities are consistent with underlying thyroid abnormality requiring investigation/treatment.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Services Misuse*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Thyroid Diseases / blood
  • Thyroid Diseases / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Function Tests / standards
  • Thyroid Function Tests / statistics & numerical data*
  • Thyrotropin / blood


  • Thyrotropin