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Hypothalamus – Function, Disorders, Location, Damage

Written by Dr.Mary

What is Hypothalamus?

The body would be going out of sorts when the hypothalamus fails to function properly. In humans, the hypothalamus is about the size of an almond yet this small organ plays a very crucial function in maintaining the homeostasis in the body. The hypothalamus is considered to be the “brain of the brain” because of its immense function in controlling other organs of the body. It is believed that the hypothalamus helps the brain get connected to the body. The term is actually Greek in origin which when translated would literally mean under chamber.


Hypothalamus Function

It is ever difficult to reckon the function of the hypothalamus because of the vast work load it assumes. Let’s just say that it helps coordinate the five different senses. Generally, the hypothalamus controls the endocrine, autonomic and as well as behavioral functions of the body. This serves as the center at which the autonomic nervous system is being linked with the endocrine system. To sum it all up, the hypothalamus is the head ganglion of the autonomic nervous system which is responsible for regulating body temperature, thirst, hunger, libido, sleep and circadian cycles, behavior and even moods. In a more detailed manner, the varied functions of the hypothalamus are stated as follows:

Autonomic Nervous System

The different parts of the hypothalamus are responsible for the autonomic responses of the body. The parasympathetic activities of the ANS are being regulated by the pre-optic and supraoptic (anterior and medial) regions of the hypothalamus. On the other hand, the sympathetic activities are controlled by the lateral portion of the hypothalamus.

Pituitary Function

The hypothalamus also has control over the pituitary gland via the hypothalamo-hypophysial tract in which the functions of the posterior lobe are being modulated. The hypothalamo-hypophysical portal system is also the one responsible for the regulation of the secretion of anterior lobe hormones.

Thermoregulation

Another essential function of the hypothalamus is controlling body temperature. Thermoregulation primarily takes place at the anterior and posterior portions of the hypothalamus; the anterior portion being responsible for cooling and the posterior for heating.

Control of Appetite

The satiety center can also be found over the hypothalamus. Hunger and feeding is controlled by the lateral nucleus while satiety is controlled by the ventromedial nucleus. So, if you have a voracious appetite or poor feeding perhaps, the hypothalamus can be entirely blamed for this.

Control of Sex Drive

Another important function of the hypothalamus is the regulation of sexual activities. The secretion of gonadotropin releasing hormone is specifically controlled by the tuberal portion of the hypothalamus. Since it is also connected with the preoptic area, it is responsible for the rise of gonadotropin levels just before ovulation takes place.

Control of Behavior

The different parts of the hypothalamus are also accountable for the control of different behaviors. It is believed that an aggressive behavior can be entirely accounted from the stimulation of the ventromedial aspect of the hypothalamus. Though the limbic system is the seat of emotions, the hypothalamus still plays a major role in eliciting different bodily responses provided a certain stimuli. These include flushing, sweating, piloerection and many others. These bodily responses can be noted when a person for instance is suffering from anxiety. In times of danger the lateral aspect of the hypothalamus will be activated to elicit a flight response. The lateral hypothalamus is also presupposed to be the seat of pleasure that makes the person seek further for the pleasurable stimulus. On the other hand, the medial hypothalamus is considered to be the punishment center which makes the organism veer from the stimulus.

Control of the Body Clock

The way you behave within the 24-hour period is still being regulated by the hypothalamus. The circadian rhythm is also known as the body clock. This can be taken from the fact that nearly every circadian rhythm is being controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus.

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Control of Sleep and Waking

Certain sleep disorders may also be due to a defective hypothalamus. That feeling of sleepiness is being regulated by the anterior portion of the hypothalamus while wakefulness is being controlled by the posterior portion.

Hypothalamus Location

This organ is located at the middle portion of the brain just below the thalamus but superior to the brain stem. Thus, it is referred to as the hypothalamus. The diencephalon’s ventral aspect is actually occupied by the hypothalamus. Normally, all vertebrates have a hypothalamus.

Hypothalamus Disorders

The hypothalamus is indeed a very powerful organ seated within the brain. Though the pituitary gland is tagged as the master gland of the body and is responsible for the secretion of certain hormones, the hypothalamus is still way powerful than the pituitary gland because the former controls the latter. Slight abnormality in the hypothalamus may possibly lead to the following hypothalamic disorders:

Frequent headaches and Problems with Vision

Whenever there’s a growing tumor from within the hypothalamus, it is likely that the affected individual would suffer from frequent bouts of headache. Aside from that, there will also be some visual disturbances because of the hypothalamus’ affinity to the optic chiasm.

Thyroid Dysfunctions

Damage to the hypothalamus would also have a domino effect on the functioning of the pituitary gland and as well as the thyroid gland primarily because the pituitary gland, which is responsible for secreting certain types of hormone, is being influenced by the hypothalamus. The thyroid gland, being under control of the pituitary gland, may also be greatly affected. This would oftentimes result to a condition called hypothyroidism and symptoms like easy fatigability, weight gain, constipation, body hair loss and impotence may be noted. Women with hypothyroidism may also suffer from disturbances in their menstrual cycles.

Problems with the Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands which are located near the kidneys may also be affected whenever something goes wrong with the hypothalamus. There may be some problems with the way a person would respond to stress and the kidneys would likewise be affected because the adrenal glands produce a specific hormone called aldosterone.

Problems with Body Temperature

Since the hypothalamus is also the control center for thermoregulation, individuals with damaged hypothalamus are expected to suffer from body temperatures which are greatly deviated from normal.

Hypothalamic Disorders in Children

Children are not spared from certain hypothalamic disorders. You could suspect a child to be suffering from a hypothalamic disorder when hyperactivity is noted. Since kids with hypothalamic disorders are often hyperactive, they may likely have some problems with stunted growth and development. Early detection of the underlying condition is imperative so that prompt treatment can be given and further nourishment may as well be given to the child.

Hypothalamus Damage

Damage to the hypothalamus would give rise to serious complications owing to the fact that this is the primary organ responsible for maintaining the homeostasis in the body. Whenever the hypothalamus is injured, it will definitely wreak havoc in the body. Several things could happen as a result of the damaged hypothalamus. Nearly every organ would be affected and the primary ones that are directly affected are those which are under the specific control of the hypothalamus. Severe damage to the hypothalamus is considered to be fatal as problems with blood chemistry, temperature and many others may arise.

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