Did You Know?
Hypothalamus, a small cone-shaped region within the brain, has complete control over the pituitary gland. This pea-sized gland that sits at the base of the skull, secretes various hormones that regulate different biological processes in our body.
From controlling the temperature of the body to producing thyroid hormones, the hypothalamus certainly plays a very important role to ensure normal functioning of the body. The hypothalamus also regulates other important mechanisms of the body such as thirst, hunger and sleep. So, one can imagine how the body will react, when hypothalamus fails to function correctly.
There are quite a few factors that can cause hypothalamic disease. For instance, excessive dietary iron in the diet can trigger this problem. Some of the culprits behind hypothalamic dysfunction are given below:
When the body is deprived of essential nutrients, it can interfere with the normal functioning of the hypothalamus. Poor nutrition can certainly put a person in the risk zone of hypothalamic disorders.
A trauma such as an accident that affects the head can also lead to hypothalamic dysfunction. A traumatic brain injury from an external force causes too much bleeding and can eventually damage the hypothalamus.
Anorexia is an eating disorder in which the person consumes very less amount of food. People with anorexia are obsessed about losing weight and adopt extreme measures to stay thin. This can cause malnourishment and eventually lead to anorexia nervosa and hypothalamic dysfunction.
People suffering from bulimia tend to eat excessively high amount of food. This is a eating disorder in which patients indulge whenever they get a chance to have food. In order to control weight, the person adopts extremes measures such as exercising for long periods of time, self-inducing to vomit and frequent use of laxatives and water pills. Leading this kind of bulimic lifestyle can also upset the working of hypothalamus.
Also, referred to as hypothalamic tumor, the unwanted growth can decrease blood flow to the hypothalamus. Sometimes tumors form in the close proximity of the pituitary gland. As the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are very close to each other, the tumor known as craniopharyngioma can inflict damage upon the hypothalamus. Although this is a benign tumor, its size increases gradually. These slowing growing tumors can become large enough to put excessive pressure on the brain. The symptoms due to craniopharyngioma are dependent upon the part of the brain experiencing undue pressure.
Headaches and Vision Problems
Development of brain tumor within or near the hypothalamus can lead to frequent episodes of headache. Impaired vision is yet another problem that accompanies headaches. For instance, if the tumor (craniopharyngioma) is putting excessive strain on the optic nerve that regulates eyesight, it can lead to poor vision. To be more specific, the side vision is damaged.
Hypothalamic disease can have a negative impact on the pituitary glands. This is because the hypothalamus is chiefly responsible for controlling the function of the pituitary gland. This negative impact can trickle down to the thyroid glands as their working is regulated by the pituitary glands. The thyroid glands that produce hormones are no longer able to produce them in sufficient amounts. This is known as hypothyroidism and can cause the following health issues:
- Weight Gain
- Body hair loss
- Hoarse voice
- Disturbances in menstrual cycle
As pituitary glands also hold the 'reins' of adrenal gland, hypothalamic dysfunction can lower the efficiency of adrenal function. This can lead to overall weakness and the person may experience a feeling similar to vertigo.
Altered Body Temperature
Another important task assigned to hypothalamus is to control the body temperature. However, with the onset of hypothalamus dysfunction, regulating body temperature is no longer possible. Fluctuations in normal body temperature is pointing towards malfunctioning of the hypothalamus.
Diabetes insipidus has also been associated with hypothalamus dysfunction. In this condition, the urine output is substantially high and does not decrease despite reducing water consumption. In such circumstances, it becomes difficult to maintain body water content.
Other infrequent symptoms observed in people diagnosed with hypothalamus disorders are inability to control the process of urinating, excessive thirst, obesity and emotional disturbance. These symptoms are less common and the ones that are commonly associated with hypothalamus disorders are hypothyroidism problems.
As aforementioned, hypothalamus is primarily involved in regulating pituitary gland function. So, in the presence of hypothalamic disorders, one cannot expect the pituitary gland to work properly. The pituitary gland produces a number of hormones that help to maintain overall well-being. Hypopituitarism leads to deficiency of one or more pituitary hormones, which is a cause for concern. Depending upon which hormone is not being produced in normal amounts, hypopituitarism can lead to the following:
Trouble Maintaining Water Balance: The kidneys filter blood to remove excess fluid in the form of urine. This is how our body regulates its water content with the help of kidneys. However, lack of antidiuretic hormone (that controls kidney function) can make it quite difficult to maintain water levels in the body.
Low Blood Pressure: Healthy blood pressure is maintained by the adrenal glands (that lie above the kidneys). The adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is involved in stimulating the adrenal glands, which release certain hormones to control blood pressure. However, ACTH deficiency diagnosed in hypopituitarism can cause adrenal dysfunction, leading to decrease in blood pressure.
Stunted Growth: People who have short stature (less than 5 feet) may be actually suffering from growth hormone (GH) deficiency. GH helps children to grow taller, hence low levels of growth hormone can lead to short stature.
Infertility: Women may not be able to give birth, if they are found to be deficient in luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormone. Adequate levels of these two hormones (LH and FSH) is very important for conception. Men lacking in LH and FSH have poor sex drive, less body hair and abnormally large breasts.
Excess Secretion of Milk: The pituitary gland releases prolactin, a hormone that regulates milk production in women after delivery. However, with the onset of hypothalamic dysfunction, the pituitary gland may secrete abnormally high amount of prolactin. The rise in prolactin levels may cause women to produce breast milk before getting pregnant. Too much secretion of prolactin in men can lead to erectile dysfunction and women may be unable to conceive.
Inadequate Secretion of Milk: Hypothalamic diseases can also lower production of prolactin. Low levels of prolactin can lead to inadequate secretion of milk in women. So, women may find it difficult to breastfeed after childbirth. In other words, lack of prolactin, can cause inability to induce lactation.
MRI or CT scan that gives an inside view of the brain is beneficial to look out for craniopharyngioma. Apart from scanning to detect tumors, the doctor may recommend tests to evaluate pituitary function. These tests determine the amount of hormones produced by the pituitary gland. Depending upon the results, the doctor will get a clear idea about the way the pituitary gland is working.
Treatment involves correcting the underlying cause to restore normal hypothalamic function. If tumor is the culprit behind malfunctioning of the hypothalamus, then surgery may be performed to remove unwanted growth. In some cases, complete removal of tumors becomes difficult as there is a possibility of damage to the nearby tissues and the pituitary gland. To avoid such complications, radiation therapy is used to destroy the abnormal growth that cannot be removed through surgery. Having a well-balanced diet is the easiest way to overcome malnourishment, which will in turn help to reduce symptoms of hypothalamic disease.
As far as treating hypopituitarism is concerned, doctors may prescribe a particular hormone replacement drug to correct the hormone deficiency. For instance, corticosteroids are usually recommended to treat ACTH deficiency. These medications will have to be taken lifelong, if the person does not recover from hypothalamic disease.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.