Hypothalamic dysfunction is a problem with part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus helps control the pituitary gland and regulates many body functions.
The hypothalamus helps control the pituitary gland, particularly in response to stress. The pituitary, in turn, controls the:
The hypothalamus also helps regulate:
- Body temperature
- Milk production
- Salt and water balance
- Weight and appetite
The most common causes of hypothalamic dysfunction are surgery, trauma (injury), tumors, and radiation.
Other causes include:
- Anorexia nervosa or bulimia
- Genetic disorders that cause iron buildup in the body
- Head trauma
- Infections and swelling (inflammation)
Symptoms are usually due to the hormones that are missing. In children, there may be growth problems, either too much or too little growth. In other children, puberty occurs too early or too late.
Tumor symptoms may include headache or loss of vision.
Low adrenal function symptoms may include dizziness or weakness.
Kallmann's syndrome is a type of hypothalamic dysfunction that occurs in men. Symptoms include:
- Lowered function of sexual hormones (hypogonadism)
- Inability to smell
Exams and Tests
The doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms.
Blood or urine tests may be ordered to determine levels of hormones such as:
Other possible tests include:
- Hormone injections followed by timed blood samples
- MRI or CT scans of the brain
- Visual field eye exam (if there is a tumor)
Treatment depends on the cause of the hypothalamic dysfunction:
- For tumors, surgery or radiation may be needed.
- For hormonal deficiencies, missing hormones need to be replaced by taking medicine.
Many causes of hypothalamic dysfunction are treatable. Most of the time, missing hormones can be replaced.
Complications of hypothalamic dysfunction depend on the cause.
- Permanent blindness
- Problems related to the brain area where the tumor occurs
- Vision disorders
- Heart problems
- High cholesterol
- Inability to deal with stress (such as surgery or infection), which can be life-threatening by causing low blood pressure
Growth hormone deficiency:
- High cholesterol
- Short stature (in children)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if you have:
- Symptoms of hormone excess or deficiency
- Vision problems
If you believe you have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, get medical attention. These conditions can be life-threatening.
If you have symptoms of a hormonal deficiency, discuss replacement therapy with your health care provider.
Low MJ. Neuroendocrinology. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 7.
Last reviewed 11/7/2013 by Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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