Measurement of serum free thyroid hormone concentrations: an essential tool for the diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction

Horm Res. 1996;45(3-5):142-7. doi: 10.1159/000184777.


Free thyroid hormones (free thyroxine, FT4, and free triiodothyronine, FT3) represent a more useful index of thyroid status than total thyroid hormones, because the latter are influenced by variations of thyroid hormone-binding proteins, especially T4-binding globulin (TBG). Thus, increased serum total T4 (TT4) and, in many instances, T3 (TT3) concentrations are encountered in euthyroid subjects with TBG excess, familial dysalbuminemic hyperthyroxinemia and transthyretin-associated hyperthyroxinemia, while decreased serum TT4 and TT3 levels are associated with TBG deficiency: under these circumstances, measurement of serum FT4 and FT3 levels correctly establishes the diagnosis of euthyroidism. In cases of suspected hyperthyroidism, a diagnostic strategy can be suggested based on serum FT3 (and TSH) measurement, since FT4 may occasionally be elevated, also in euthyroid subjects, e.g., in patients under chronic amiodarone or L-T4 treatment. When hypothyroidism is suspected, the most reliable test appears to be FT4 (together with TSH), because FT3 may still be normal in patients with subclinical or mild thyroid failure. In any case, it is essential that reliable free thyroid hormone assays be used, which are devoid of methodological limitations responsible for artifactual results under particular circumstances, such as thyroid hormone-binding protein abnormalities, pregnancy and nonthyroidal illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts
  • Humans
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Thyroid Diseases / blood*
  • Thyroid Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Thyroid Function Tests
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood*


  • Thyroid Hormones