The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

Hypothyroidism can cause a host of health problems. Fortunately, the condition can be easily diagnosed and treated.

Midlife can bring subtle changes in our skin, hair, energy, weight, and even mental outlook. Before writing them off as products of aging, it's a good idea to make sure they're not the result of an underactive thyroid. This tiny butterfly-shaped gland influences virtually every organ system in the body. The hormones it secretes into the bloodstream play a vital role in regulating metabolism — the rate at which our bodies convert food and oxygen to energy. Low thyroid hormone production, or hypothyroidism, causes a range of symptoms — fatigue, constipation, dry skin and brittle nails, aches and pains, and feeling down — that you might easily attribute to other health problems.

Moreover, hypothyroidism is especially common in women. Between ages 35 and 65, about 13% of us will have it, and the proportion rises to 20% among those over 65. Because the link between symptoms and thyroid disease isn't always obvious, especially in older people, many women won't know they have it — and won't be treated for it.

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