Harvard Women's Health Watch

Treating hypothyroidism

Underactive thyroid is the most common thyroid disorder in women.

Midlife can bring subtle changes to skin, hair, weight, energy, and even mental outlook. Before you attribute these changes to menopause or aging, it's a good idea to make sure they're not caused by an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism. This condition is five to eight times more common in women than in men.

The thyroid is a tiny butterfly-shaped gland that influences virtually every organ system in the body. The hormones it secretes are vital for the regulation of metabolism — the rate at which our bodies convert food and oxygen to energy. Hypothyroidism can cause a wide range of symptoms (see "Symptoms," below). The link between these symptoms and thyroid disease isn't always obvious, especially in older women, so many won't know they have the condition and won't be treated for it. That's a serious problem, because untreated hypothyroidism heightens your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

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