January is thyroid awareness month. There are several common disorders of the thyroid, but each is different.

“Your thyroid is a gland in your neck.  It secretes a hormone that controls the energy in your body,” said Dr. Jessica James, a physician at Sentara Spring Creek Family Medicine.

Dr. James says that when not working correctly, thyroid disorders either slow down or speed up a person’s metabolism by disrupting the production of thyroid hormones.

“The most common problems with the thyroid are an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, or an overactive thyroid which is hyperthyroidism,” said Dr. James.

The symptoms of hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, include fatigue, getting cold easily, weight loss and constipation.

“Hypothyroidism is usually treated with a medication that’s similar to the thyroid hormone that’s produced by the body,” noted Dr. James.

On the other side of the spectrum, symptoms of an overactive thyroid include anxiety, weight loss even when eating normally, thinning hair, and, in some cases, an irregular heart rhythm. 

A variety of options can be used to treat hyperthyroidism depending on each individual’s situation. 

“There are medications to decrease the amount of hormone produce by the thyroid.  Sometimes reactive iodine is used to destroy part of the thyroid, and sometimes surgery is even required to treat hyperthyroidism,” noted Dr. James.

For more information on this topic, please call 1-800-SENTARA. If you have a health question you'd like us to answer, email healthquestions@nbc29.com.