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Free Fatty Acids Blood Test

Last updated Oct. 7, 2018

The Free Fatty Acids Blood Test helps determine the level of free fatty acids in blood. It is used to aid diabetes management, assess nutrition status, and diagnose hormone-producing tumors.


What are other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • FFA Blood Test
  • NEFA Blood Test
  • Nonesterified Fatty Acids Blood Test

What is Free Fatty Acids Blood Test? (Background Information)

  • Free fatty acids are formed from the breakdown of triglycerides, the chemical term for what is generally known as animal and vegetable fat
  • Triglycerides, or fat, are obtained through the diet. Their structure consists of 3 fatty acid “tails” (hence the prefix tri-) attached to a glycerol backbone. There are 2 main types of triglycerides:
    • Saturated fat contains the full amount of hydrogen atoms
    • Unsaturated fat contains carbon-carbon double bonds, which take the place of hydrogen atoms. These fats are unsaturated in that there is a potential for the carbon atoms to be bonded to more hydrogen
  • Triglycerides are broken down into their chemical constituents - glycerol and fatty acids - in the small intestine. This is done by pancreatic enzymes called lipases that travel through the pancreatic duct to reach the small intestine
  • After being detached from the glycerol backbone by the action of lipases, the vast majority (95-98%) of fatty acids are chemically modified, through a process called esterification, for further breakdown and energy production
  • The rest of the fatty acids are kept in free form and bound to proteins and stored. They are released after stimulation by hormones such as adrenaline
  • The Free Fatty Acids Blood Test helps determine the level of free fatty acids in blood. It is used to aid diabetes management, assess nutrition status, and diagnose hormone-producing tumors

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Free Fatty Acids Blood Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing the Free Fatty Acids Blood Test:

  • Monitoring nutritional status in individuals with malabsorptive disorders
  • Monitoring diabetes
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling, especially of the legs
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Obesity

How is the Specimen Collected for Free Fatty Acids Blood Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Free Fatty Acids Blood Test:

Sample required: Blood

Process of obtaining blood sample in adults:

  • A band is wrapped around the arm, 3-4 inches above the collection site (superficial vein that lies within the elbow pit)
  • The site is cleaned with 70% alcohol in an outward spiral, away from the zone of needle insertion
  • The needle cap is removed and is held in line with the vein, pulling the skin tight
  • With a small and quick thrust, the vein is penetrated using the needle
  • The required amount of blood sample is collected by pulling the plunger of the syringe out slowly
  • The wrap band is removed, gauze is placed on the collection site, and the needle is removed
  • The blood is immediately transferred into the blood container, which has the appropriate preservative/clot activator/anti-coagulant
  • The syringe and the needle are disposed into the appropriate “sharp container” for safe and hygienic disposal

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Free Fatty Acids Blood Test Result?

The significance of the Free Fatty Acids Blood Test result is explained.

  • A high value (greater than 25 mg/dL in adults) for the test may indicate:
    • Pheochromocytoma
    • Hyperthyroidism
    • Von Gierke disease
    • Huntington chorea
    • Acute myocardial infarction (heart attack)
    • Reye syndrome
    • Refsum disease
    • Zellweger syndrome
    • Neonatal adrenoleukodystrophy
    • Beta-lipoproteinemia
  • A low value (less than 8 mg/dL in adults) for the test may indicate:
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Malabsorption
    • Zinc deficiency

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Certain factors may interfere with the results of the Free Fatty Acids Blood Test. These include exercise, anxiety, and long-term fasting

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider of the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 30, 2016
Last updated: Oct. 7, 2018