Triiodothyronine, Total

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Triiodothyronine, Total

Synonym/acronym: T3.

Common use

To assist in evaluating thyroid function primarily related to diagnosing hyperthyroidism and monitoring the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.


Serum (1 mL) collected in a gold-, red-, or red/gray-top tube. Plasma (1 mL) collected in a green-top (heparin) tube is also acceptable.

Normal findings

(Method: Immunoassay)
AgeConventional UnitsSI Units (Conventional Units × 0.0154)
Cord blood14–86 ng/dL0.22–1.32 nmol/L
1–3 days100–292 ng/dL1.54–4.5 nmol/L
4–30 days62–243 ng/dL0.96–3.74 nmol/L
1–12 mo105–245 ng/dL1.62–3.77 nmol/L
1–5 yr105–269 ng/dL1.62–4.14 nmol/L
6–10 yr94–241 ng/dL1.45–3.71 nmol/L
16–20 yr80–210 ng/dL1.23–3.23 nmol/L
Adult70–204 ng/dL1.08–3.14 nmol/L
Older adult40–181 ng/dL0.62–2.79 nmol/L
Pregnant woman (last 4 mo gestation)116–247 ng/dL1.79–3.8 nmol/L


Unlike the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4), most T3 is converted enzymatically from T4 in the tissues rather than being produced directly by the thyroid gland (see monograph titled “Thyroxine, Total”). Approximately one-third of T4 is converted to T3. Most T3 in the serum (99.97%) is bound to thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG), prealbumin, and albumin. The remainder (0.03%) circulates as unbound or free T3, which is the physiologically active form. Levels of free T3 are proportional to levels of total T3. The advantage of measuring free T3 instead of total T3 is that, unlike total T3 measurements, free T3 levels are not affected by fluctuations in TBG levels. T3 is four to five times more biologically potent than T4. This hormone, along with T4, is responsible for maintaining a euthyroid state.

This procedure is contraindicated for



  • Adjunctive aid to thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free T4 assessment.

Potential diagnosis

Increased in

  • Conditions with increased TBG (e.g., pregnancy and estrogen therapy)
  • Early thyroid failure
  • Hyperthyroidism (triiodothyronine is produced independently of stimulation by TSH)
  • Iodine-deficiency goiter
  • T3 toxicosis
  • Thyrotoxicosis factitia (laboratory tests do not distinguish between endogenous and exogenous sources)
  • Treated hyperthyroidism

Decreased in

    Acute and subacute nonthyroidal disease (pathophysiology is unclear) Conditions with decreased TBG (TBG is the major transport protein) Hypothyroidism (thyroid hormones are not produced in sufficient quantities regardless of TSH levels) Malnutrition (related to insufficient protein sources to form albumin and TBG)

Critical findings


Interfering factors

  • Drugs that may increase total T3 levels include amiodarone, amphetamine, benziodarone, clofibrate, fluorouracil, halofenate, insulin, levothyroxine, methadone, opiates, oral contraceptives, phenothiazine, phenytoin, prostaglandins, and T3.
  • Drugs that may decrease total T3 levels include acetylsalicylic acid, amiodarone, anabolic steroids, asparaginase, carbamazepine, cholestyramine, clomiphene, colestipol, dexamethasone, fenclofenac, furosemide, glucocorticoids, hydrocortisone, interferon alfa-2b, iobenzamic acid, iopanoic acid, ipodate, isotretinoin, lithium, methimazole, netilmicin, oral contraceptives, penicillamine, phenylbutazone, phenytoin, potassium iodide, prednisone, propranolol, propylthiouracil, radiographic agents, sodium ipodate, salicylate, sulfonylureas, and tyropanoic acid.

Nursing Implications and Procedure


  • Positively identify the patient using at least two unique identifiers before providing care, treatment, or services.
  • Patient Teaching: Inform the patient this test can assist in assessing thyroid gland function.
  • Obtain a history of the patient’s complaints, including a list of known allergens, especially allergies or sensitivities to latex.
  • Obtain a history of the patient’s endocrine system, symptoms, and results of previously performed laboratory tests and diagnostic and surgical procedures.
  • Obtain a list of the patient’s current medications, including herbs, nutritional supplements, and nutraceuticals (see Effects of Natural Products on Laboratory Values online at DavisPlus).
  • Review the procedure with the patient. Inform the patient that specimen collection takes approximately 5 to 10 min. Address concerns about pain and explain that there may be some discomfort during the venipuncture.
  • Sensitivity to social and cultural issues, as well as concern for modesty, is important in providing psychological support before, during, and after the procedure.
  • Note that there are no food, fluid, or medication restrictions unless by medical direction.


  • Potential complications: N/A
  • Avoid the use of equipment containing latex if the patient has a history of allergic reaction to latex.
  • Instruct the patient to cooperate fully and to follow directions. Direct the patient to breathe normally and to avoid unnecessary movement.
  • Observe standard precautions, and follow the general guidelines in Patient Preparation and Specimen Collection. Positively identify the patient, and label the appropriate specimen container with the corresponding patient demographics, initials of the person collecting the specimen, date, and time of collection. Perform a venipuncture.
  • Remove the needle and apply direct pressure with dry gauze to stop bleeding. Observe/assess venipuncture site for bleeding or hematoma formation and secure gauze with adhesive bandage.
  • Promptly transport the specimen to the laboratory for processing and analysis.


  • Inform the patient that a report of the results will be made available to the requesting health-care provider (HCP), who will discuss the results with the patient.
  • Reinforce information given by the patient’s HCP regarding further testing, treatment, or referral to another HCP. Answer any questions or address any concerns voiced by the patient or family.
  • Depending on the results of this procedure, additional testing may be performed to evaluate or monitor progression of the disease process and determine the need for a change in therapy. Evaluate test results in relation to the patient’s symptoms and other tests performed.

Related Monographs

  • Related tests include albumin, antibodies antithyroglobulin, biopsy thyroid, copper, PTH, prealbumin, protein, RAIU, thyroglobulin, TBII, thyroid scan, TSH, TSI, T4, free T4, free T3, and US thyroid.
  • Refer to the Endocrine System table at the end of the book for related tests by body system.
Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, © 2013 Farlex and Partners