In either an ambulatory or a hospitalized patient setting, a normal serum sensitive thyrotropin (TSH) value is strongly suggestive of euthyroidism if the patient has intact hypothalamic-pituitary function and is not receiving drugs known to suppress pituitary TSH secretion. In stable ambulatory patients, an abnormal sensitive TSH value is strongly suggestive of clinical or subclinical thyroid hormone excess or deficiency, which can be confirmed by a free thyroxine (T4) index (FT4I) and evaluation for antimicrosomal antibody (AMA) as a marker of autoimmune thyroid disease. In a hospitalized patient, an abnormality in sensitive TSH or FT4I does not necessarily indicate a thyroid problem but may merely reflect a nonthyroidal illness or glucocorticoid or dopamine treatment. A thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) test may be needed to diagnose hyperthyroidism in a hospitalized patient with a basal sensitive TSH level of less than 0.1 microU/ml because a detectable TRH response contraindicates hyperthyroidism whereas hyperthyroid patients with nonthyroidal illness have the expected absent response. In a hospitalized patient, hypothyroidism must be diagnosed on the basis of both a high TSH level and a low FT4I because an isolated high TSH value may merely reflect the recovery phase of a nonthyroidal illness. No clinical urgency exists for establishing a diagnosis of subclinical hypothyroidism in a hospitalized patient; definitive determination of thyroid status can be deferred until recovery and discharge.