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Hypothalamus – Location, Function, Disorders

Hypothalamus is part of the brain that is responsible for maintaining the internal body balance through a process known as homeostatic. It acts as a link between the endocrine and nervous system. Hypothalamus produces hormones that are responsible for releasing and inhibiting the start and stop of production of other hormones in the body.

Hypothalamus receives information from nearly all parts of the nervous systems and it is this aspect, which makes it an essential part of the brain. It has multiple implications in the regulation of the nervous system.  Hormones of the hypothalamus are highly involved in pituitary gland function. When this part of brain receives signals from the nervous systems, it secretes substances, which are known as nuerohormones that are primarily responsible in starting and stopping the secretion of pituitary hormones.

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Some of the hormones secreted by hypothalamus are such as anti-diuretic hormone, which increases the absorption of water into blood by kidneys. Corticotrophin releasing hormone is also released by hypothalamus and sends messages to the pituitary gland to stimulate the adrenal gland to release corticosteroids, which in turn assist in regulating immune system response and metabolic activities.

In addition, hypothalamus also releases growth hormone-releasing hormone, which signals the anterior pituitary gland to release growth hormones, and these are essential for maintaining a healthy body.

Hypothalamus disorders

There are different forms of diseases and disorders, which affect the function of hypothalamus, and they include hypothalamic disease, hypopituitarism, neurogenic diabetes insipidus, tertiary hypothyroidism, and hypothalamus developmental disorders.

Hypothalamic disease may be caused by physical injury to the head. The injury impacts hypothalamus and this affects many different parts of the endocrine system. Since hypothalamus is connected to many parts of the endocrine system, it is not easy to determine whether the hypothalamic disease is caused by the thalamus dysfunction or another related gland like pituitary gland.

Hypothalamic diseases manifest in form of sleep and appetite disorders. Hypothalamic dysfunction is the abnormal function of the thalamus, which controls the function of pituitary gland. The pituitary gland controls other glands that produce hormones such as adrenal gland, thyroid gland, testes and ovaries.

In addition, the thalamus helps regulate temperature control, appetite, emotions, and salt balance in the body. Hypothalamic dysfunction may be caused by infections, surgery, tumors, poor diet and genetic disorders.

Hypopituitarism is a precipitating condition, which is caused by hypothalamic disease. When there is damage in hypothalamus, it affects the normal functioning and responsiveness of pituitary gland. Since hypothalamus signals the pituitary to release hormones, when thalamus is damaged, this causes insufficient signaling to pituitary. This in turn leads to many conditions such as inhibited production of thyroid stimulating hormone. It also impairs the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone, melanocyte stimulating hormones, and follicle stimulating hormone.

Another precipitating condition associated with hypothalamic disorder is tertiary hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone takes part in metabolic activities and insufficient synthesis and release of thyroid hormone leads to suppressed metabolic activities and increased weight gain. This is the reason why hypothalamic disease could implicate on obesity.

Thyroid gland is an auxiliary organ within the hypothalamus-pituitary system. Hypothalamus produces thyrotropin-releasing hormone that signals the pituitary to release thyroid-stimulating hormone, which in turn regulates the secretion of T3 and T4 thyroid hormone.

Moreover, hypothalamic disease may also lead to neurogenic diabetes insipidus, which occurs as a result of low levels of anti-diuretic hormone produced by hypothalamus. When there is inadequacy of anti-diuretic hormone, there is increased thirst and urine excretion. A prolonged urine excretion increases the risks of suffering severe dehydration.

There are also developmental disorders related to hypothalamic disease and they include insufficient production of growth hormone releasing hormone- GHRH. Hypothalamus secretes growth hormone releasing hormone, which stimulates pituitary gland to secrete growth hormone. This growth hormone has developmental functions in the body such as growth of sexual development, maintaining healthy bones and muscles as well as regulating the distribution of fats. Low levels of growth hormones could lead to precocious puberty, somatic growth and delayed puberty or extended puberty.

What are the symptoms of hypothalamic disease and related conditions?

Because the dysfunction of hypothalamus affects the entire endocrine system, various symptoms may appear and will depend on the parts affected. Hypothyroidism may cause fatigue, weight gain, body hair loss, and horse voice. It may also cause impotence and disturbances in menstrual cycle.

When the adrenal function is affected, it may lead to fatigue and weakness similar to vertigo. Altered body temperature may be another sign for hypothalamus dysfunction. Diabetes insipidus has been associated with hypothalamus disease. With diabetes insipidus, the excretion of urine remains high and does not subside even when water consumption of is reduced. This leads to dehydration and it comes very difficult to maintain body water content.

There are other infrequent symptoms, which may be observed in people suffering from hypothalamus dysfunction, and they include inability to control urinating, obesity, emotional disturbance, and excessive thirst.

Treatment of hypothalamus disorders and disease

The treatment mainly entails correcting the underlying problems, which are causing the hypothalamic dysfunction. If the cause is a tumor, a surgery may be done to remove the growth. Radiation therapy may be applied if surgical procedure is difficult to do because of possibility of damaging nearby glands and tissues. Hypopituitarism may be treated by administering hormone supplements. Well balanced diets can help overcome malnutrition, which may help reduce the symptoms of hypothalamic disease.

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