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Clin Chem. 1996 Jan;42(1):125-34.

Preanalytical considerations in testing thyroid function.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas 75235-9072, USA.


Remarkable technical advances have permitted analytical measurement of thyrotropin (TSH) and estimates of free thyroxine (FT4) with precision, accuracy, and favorable economics. Combined with an increased appreciation of the key insights into the pituitary-thyroid relation, preanalytical considerations infrequently introduce confounding variables. In reviewing thyroid data, preanalytical considerations include physiological and specimen-based issues. Central to the improvement in thyroid assessment is the recognition that physiological individuals maintain their FT4 within narrow limits. When this deviates, there is a logarithmic response of the TSH concentration to the arithmetic shift in FT4. In effect, the TSH deviation magnifies the subtle shift in FT4. Artifact and other nonthyroid-related preanalytical considerations are infrequently the cause of nonconcordance when discrepancy occurs between the reported values for FT4 and TSH. When abnormalities of TSH and FT4 are encountered, the probability strongly favors a disease state rather than a preanalytical variable. Infrequent but real extrathyroidal pathophysiological states are increasingly recognized as a result of the reliable assessment of the pituitary-thyroid relation.

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