The hypothalamus is a deep brain structure that acts as the body’s sophisticated control and coordination centre. Its primary job is maintaining equilibrium in the body and carrying out its functions by controlling hormones or directly working on the autonomic nervous system. The hypothalamus can get damaged by a variety of disorders, impacting a variety of bodily processes. This blog is a comprehensive guide to the functions and disorders that can affect the hypothalamus.
What is the hypothalamus?
As already mentioned, the hypothalamus is a part of the brain that regulates the hormonal system. It releases hormones to the pituitary gland, a distinct area of the brain that makes hormones that control hormone production in organs like the adrenals, thyroid, ovaries, and testicles. The hormone system works as a feedback loop, telling the hypothalamus when to start or stop releasing hormones.
The hypothalamus also regulates a wide range of processes which includes sex desire, habits, hunger, thirst, weight, the temperature of the body, production of breast milk, water and salt equilibrium, sleep-wake cycle, and childbirth.
What are the disorders associated with the hypothalamus?
The hypothalamus can occasionally have issues that lead to illnesses. Any problems with the hypothalamus may cause damage to the pituitary gland also. Variations in hormone levels bring on some diseases. Diseases of the hypothalamus include the following:
- Hypothalamic obesity: Sometimes, a hypothalamic injury causes problems with hunger and may cause symptoms such as uncontrollable appetite, quick weight gain, lower metabolic rates, and many more. These may lead to gaining weight and obesity.
- Kallman syndrome: It is a hereditary disorder that causes delayed puberty and loss of smell. Hypothalamic malfunction can cause Kallman syndrome and affects the hypothalamus. As a result, the body fails to produce enough hormones to support sexual development. Some symptoms are the absence of periods, kidney problems, small-sized penis, no or small breasts, cleft lips, cleft palate, hearing problems, or undescended testicles.
- Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea: When the human body doesn’t receive enough energy from food, it produces a high amount of cortisol, weakening the hypothalamus-ovary link. This results in low hormone levels, interferes with ovulation, and causes missed periods. This condition is also called secondary amenorrhea.
- Syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone: This condition leads to low electrolytes and increased antidiuretic hormone levels. A stroke, an infection, or cancer typically damages the hypothalamus. Low sodium levels brought on by an excess of this hormone can result in weakness, fatigue, headaches, difficulty thinking, and vomiting.
- Central diabetes insipidus: It is a rare type of diabetes, making the immune system harm the hypothalamus. When the hypothalamus fails to work efficiently, it won’t produce the antidiuretic hormone – vasopressin, which helps the kidney’s filtration and hydration process. This causes frequent urination and thirst in the affected person.
- Prader-Willi syndrome: A dysfunctional hypothalamus is the root cause of the hereditary disorder, Prader-Willy syndrome. This may lead to slow growth, poor genital development, obesity, and behavioural problems.
What are the symptoms of hypothalamus dysfunction?
When a person has hypothalamic dysfunction, their body starts showing various symptoms. These symptoms correspond to the types of hormones involved. Some signs are fluctuating blood pressure levels, increase in water retention, dehydration, infertility, insomnia, frequent urge to urinate, delayed puberty, poor bone health, constant fluctuations in body temperature, and muscle weakness.
When to see a doctor?
Call the healthcare provider if someone exhibits these symptoms mentioned above and get medical help.
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What are the different causes of dysfunction in the hypothalamus?
Dysfunction of the hypothalamus can occur for several reasons. The hypothalamus can sometimes develop improperly in the womb due to a genetic disorder, damage, or other factors. The following circumstances can also result in hypothalamus dysfunction:
- brain cancer
- cancer and cancer therapy in children
- head trauma
- a brain operation
- brain enlargement
Exercise and diet can also have an impact on the hypothalamus. When a person doesn’t have enough food, their body produces cortisol under stress, which may disrupt the hypothalamus’s normal functioning. This makes the body respond in various ways, such as weight loss, anxiety, excessive exercise, and eating insufficient calories.
High levels of stress, cocaine use, consuming a lot of inflammatory foods like saturated fats, and high levels of stress can all contribute to hypothalamic dysfunction. The dysfunction may also impact numerous other bodily functions.
What are the different tests to diagnose disorders of the hypothalamus?
Based on the symptoms, the healthcare provider will ask for a personal medical history and perform blood and urine tests. Various examinations thoroughly check the production of several hormones, electrolytes, and autoimmune proteins. To examine the brain, doctors may also request imaging tests like a computed tomography scan (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
What are the treatment options for disorders of the hypothalamus?
Treatment options for issues related to the hypothalamus may vary depending on the condition and its underlying cause.
Surgery or radiation may be an option if the dysfunction is due to tumours. If the cause is a hormone problem, like hypothyroidism, hormone therapy may help. Issues like overeating may be handled with medications that reduce the appetite and diet programmes. Drugs are prescribed to manage obesity.
The healthcare provider may recommend therapy for the patient’s mental health or lifestyle counselling for stress management to help them tackle other health issues, such as an eating disorder, excessive stress levels, or behavioural problems.
What are the complications of disorders related to the hypothalamus?
Disorders of the hypothalamus are not preventable unless caused by eating disorders or inadequate nutrition. For other problems such as infertility, erection issues, osteoporosis, breastfeeding difficulties, heart issues, a high cholesterol level, growth issues, and low sex drive, one has to seek medical help.
A hypothalamus disorder can be identified with the aid of a doctor. See a doctor if a patient or person experiences any symptoms mentioned above or feels unwell.
The body’s coordination centre is located in the brain’s hypothalamus. It directly engages the body’s autonomic system to effectively control processes such as your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. It also affects other body processes, including sleep, mood, muscle and bone growth, and sexual drive, by producing hormones that control other hormones or other glands. The hypothalamus can be impacted by several diseases, leading to various health issues, and it is vital to be aware of these to determine, diagnose, and treat them early.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where is the hypothalamus located?
Hypothalamus is present at the base of the brain, immediately above the brainstem and between the pituitary gland and the thymus gland.
Can disorders related to the hypothalamus be hereditary?
Yes. Hypothalamic dysfunctions can happen due to hereditary reasons.