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Hypothalamic dysfunction

Definition

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.

Causes

The hypothalamus helps control the pituitary gland. The pituitary is a small gland at the base of the brain. The pituitary, in turn, controls the:

The hypothalamus also helps regulate:

  • Body temperature
  • Childbirth
  • Emotions
  • Growth
  • Production of breast milk
  • Salt and water balance
  • Sleep
  • Weight and appetite

The most common causes of hypothalamic dysfunction are surgery, traumatic brain injury, tumors, and radiation.

Other causes include:

Symptoms

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.

Hypothyroidism symptoms may include feeling cold all the time, constipation, fatigue, or weight gain, among others.

Low adrenal function symptoms may include dizziness or weakness.

Kallmann syndrome is a genetic type of hypothalamic dysfunction. Symptoms include:

  • Lowered function of sexual hormones (hypogonadism)
  • Inability to smell (in some people)

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:

Treatment

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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Many causes of hypothalamic dysfunction are treatable. Most of the time, missing hormones can be replaced.

Possible Complications

Complications of hypothalamic dysfunction depend on the cause.

BRAIN TUMORS

  • Permanent blindness
  • Problems related to the brain area where the tumor occurs
  • Vision disorders
  • Problems controlling salt and water balance

HYPOTHYROIDISM

ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY

  • Inability to deal with stress (such as surgery or infection), which can be life-threatening by causing low blood pressure

GONADAL DEFICIENCY

GROWTH HORMONE DEFICIENCY

  • High cholesterol
  • Osteoporosis
  • Short stature (in children)
  • Weakness

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Headaches
  • Symptoms of hormone excess or deficiency
  • Vision problems

Prevention

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.

References

Giustina A, Braunstein GD. Hypothalamic syndromes. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 10.

Molitch ME. Neuroendocrinology and the neuroendocrine system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 223.

Review Date:10/28/2015
Reviewed By:Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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