Results of thyroid function tests were analysed in 199 clinically euthyroid inpatients with normal serum thyroid stimulating hormone values. Serum total triiodothyronine was less than 1.25 nmol/l in 61.8% of samples, free triiodothyronine less than 3.9 pmol/l in 57.8%, total thyroxine less than 63 nmol/l in 21.1% and free thyroxine less than 9.5 pmol/l in 17.6%. In contrast, thyroxine binding globulin ratio was below normal (less than 5) in only 5 samples. A significant positive correlation (P less than 0.001) of serum free thyroxine with total thyroxine, thyroxine/thyroxine binding globulin ratio and free triiodothyronine was present as well as a significant negative correlation (P less than 0.001) with serum thyroid stimulating hormone. There was no correlation of free thyroxine measurements with serum albumin or non-esterified fatty acid concentrations. Although serum free thyroxine is low in a number of patients with non-thyroidal illnesses, this does not appear to be due to a rise in non-esterified fatty acids or a fall in albumin as has been proposed. Serum thyroid stimulating hormone measurements are essential to confirm the diagnosis of hypothyroidism in such subjects.
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