At a glance

Also known as

Free T4; T4

Why get tested?

To diagnose hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism in adults

When to get tested?

FT4 may be is measured in response to an abnormal TSH test result

Sample required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in the arm.

Test preparation needed?

None but tell your doctor what medications you are taking as some may affect the test results.

What is being tested?

This test measures the amount of free thyroxine, or FT4, in your blood. T4 is one of two major hormones produced by the thyroid gland (the other is called triiodothyronine, or T3).

T4 makes up nearly all of what we call thyroid hormone, while T3 makes up less than 10%. Thyroid hormones help regulate the body’s metabolism (that is, how the body functions).

Most T4 in blood is attached to a protein; less than 1% is unattached. The blood test measures the amount of free (unattached) T4 hormone in your blood since this is the biologically relevant fraction.

Scientists believe that free hormone is responsible for all the effects of thyroid hormone.

There is a feedback system between the pituitary gland which produces TSH and the thyroid. Normally TSH produced in the pituitary drives thyroid T3 and T4 production. If thyroid hormone production falls, TSH rises and if T3 and T4 become too high, TSH levels fall.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained from a needle placed in a vein in your arm.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

The Test

How is it used?

FT4 can assist in telling whether the thyroid is performing properly. It aids in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. The test may also be used to help evaluate a patient with an enlarged thyroid gland, called a goitre. It may also aid in the diagnosis of female infertility problems.

When is it requested?

A free T4 test is usually used in response to an abnormal TSH test result.

What does the test result mean?

Looking for reference ranges?

High free T4 results may indicate an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).

Low free T4 results may indicate an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Is there anything else I should know?

Some medicines can affect thyroid function, so tell your doctor about any drugs you are taking.

Common Questions

How is hyperthyroidism treated?

Hyperthyroidism can be controlled through treatment. This will normally involve either tablets which stop the thyroid gland producing thyroid hormones, radioiodine treatment which destroys thyroid tissue, or surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.

How is hypothyroidism treated?

Hypothyroidism is easily treated and controlled for most people with thyroxine (T4) replacement in the form of a tablet.

How does pregnancy affect thyroid hormone levels?

Pregnancy can increase total T4 levels. Normally, free T4 levels will not change significantly as a result of pregnancy.