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Signs and symptoms of a malfunctioning hypothalamus (hypothalamic dysfunction) usually develop due to various reasons. Hypothalamic dysfunction may cause the following problems:
If the malfunctioning hypothalamus affects the adrenal glands, symptoms that develop may include:
What is the function of the hypothalamus?
The hypothalamus helps in maintaining the coordination between various systems of the body. Its function includes regulation of various factors:
- Body temperature
- Salt and water balance
- Sex drive
- Production of breast milk
- Sleep–wake cycle
Another important function of the hypothalamus is to control the pituitary gland, which lies below the hypothalamus. The pituitary gland is an important organ that controls organs such as the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries, and testes.
What causes malfunctioning of the hypothalamus?
Various conditions can cause the hypothalamus to malfunction. These include:
- Brain surgery
- Brain injury
- Brain tumors
- Cancer therapy (radiation/radiotherapy and chemotherapy)
- Anorexia nervosa (nutritional deficiencies in eating disorders)
- Infections such as tuberculosis
- Brain aneurysm (bulging of blood vessels)
- Genetic disorders (Prader-Willi syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, and familial diabetes insipidus)
- Inflammatory disease (paraneoplastic syndrome and neurosarcoidosis)
How is a malfunctioning hypothalamus diagnosed?
To diagnose if the hypothalamus is malfunctioning, laboratory tests are done that examine the patient’s blood and urine for hormones:
- Pituitary hormones
- Thyroid hormones
- Sodium levels
Other diagnostic tests include:
How is a malfunctioning hypothalamus treated?
Treatment depends on the cause of the malfunctioning hypothalamus and the patient's presenting signs and symptoms.
- Hormonal deficiencies: Hormone replacement therapy (replacing the missing hormones with manmade hormonal pills, for example, levothyroxine tablets for hypothyroidism)
- Tumors: Surgery or radiation
- Nutritional deficiency: Nutritional counseling and medications that control the patient’s appetite
- Kallmann syndrome: Lifelong sex hormone replacement therapy
What are the complications of a malfunctioning hypothalamus?
Hormonal deficiencies due to a malfunctioning hypothalamus can cause complications such as:
- Growth problems (short stature)
- Heart problems
- Obesity and faulty eating habits
- Low blood pressure
- Disturbances in the water and salt levels in the body
- Inability to deal with stress (such as during surgery or infection)
- Osteoporosis (thin or fragile bones)
- Erection problems
- Difficulty during labor
- Breastfeeding problems
- A decrease in sex response
- Early or late puberty
- Mood disorders
- Sleep disorders
If the cause of a malfunctioning hypothalamus is a brain tumor, the complications can be as follows:
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