The function of hypothalamus is important in different bodily processes. This essential part of the brain links the nervous and endocrine systems together to ensure that the body temperature, blood pressure and electrolyte balance are held at the right values. These are adjusted accordingly should an abrupt change occurs in these values. The hypothalamus is also involved in organizing and controlling complex emotions and moods including basic body functions like thirst, hunger and sleep-wake cycles.
Anything that disrupts the function of hypothalamus can severely affect basic bodily functions and result in developmental disorders. A malfunctioning hypothalamus could be due to a range of factors, from malnutrition to certain types of genetic disorders. Individuals who are affected exhibit varying symptoms based on the severity of hypothalamic damage. Those who receive timely and appropriate treatment will do better than those who do not.
What does the Hypothalamus look like ?
Nobody would ever think that the function of the hypothalamus is so great compared to its size. This cone-shaped structure weighs around 4 grams and resembles the size of an almond. It is deeply buried between the thalamus and the brain stem, forming the front part of the interbrain or diencephalon.
The hypothalamus is primarily made up of neural tissues and frequently referred to as a gland. However, the hypothalamus is rather a part of the brain which works in organizing neural inputs from the nervous and endocrine systems to control a wide variety of bodily processes. It contains a significant number of nuclei and complex fiber tracts to facilitate the production of hormones needed by the body.
Function of hypothalamus
The hypothalamus is the center of several important body processes, like regulating body temperature, sleep-wake cycle and food-water intake. It is so much involved in controlling part of the nervous system, the pituitary gland and the center of emotional responses. The hypothalamus functions by sending electrical signals or releasing hormones to influence other cells to set off compensatory changes if there are any variation in the set-point values for blood pressure, body temperature or fluids. Everything in the hypothalamus is well-crafted to enable it to do its job efficiently, from the cells, to the neurons and down to the capillaries.
The function of hypothalamus has something to do with the:
- Autonomic nervous system
The hypothalamus has a huge effect on the autonomic nervous system – the control center of the nervous system which regulates balance within the internal environment. This part of the nervous system influences heart rate, urination, metabolism, perspiration, salivation and even sexual desire. The hypothalamus will ensure that these activities are being carried out efficiently for continuous survival.
- Endocrine system
The function of the hypothalamus is greatly influential to the endocrine system by controlling its master gland, the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is involved in the functioning of other important glands like the adrenal gland, thyroid and even the ovaries and testis. The hypothalamus stimulates or inhibits various functions of the master gland by releasing neuro-hormones, thereby affecting growth and sexual functioning.
- Physiological state
The hypothalamus is also the control system for temperature regulation, food-water intake and sleep-wake cycle. It controls appetite and hunger as well as the sense of satisfaction after a meal, thus, helping regulate weight and appetite.
- Emotional responses
The hypothalamus also organizes and manages emotional responses by controlling the molecules that encourage emotions like rage, fear, anger, sorrow and joy.
Factors that affect the function of hypothalamus
A number of factors can severely affect the proper functioning of the hypothalamus, causing internal imbalance as well as developmental and behavioral disorders. These include:
- Genetic disorders
- Head trauma
Even high amounts of iron have been found to have adverse effects on the hypothalamus. Among the disorders connected to a problematic hypothalamus are:
- Kallmann’s Syndrome
- Neurogenic diabetes
A malfunctioning hypothalamus also causes developmental problems or delays such as stunted growth, infertility problems and milk-production issues.
Identifying problems related to the hypothalamus
Whenever something disrupts the function of hypothalamus, the body exhibits this in various ways. The severity of the symptoms differs in each person depending on the underlying cause as well as the amount and kind of hormones affected. If tumor is involved, the affected individual usually has frequent and recurring bouts of headaches and vision problems. If there is adrenal dysfunction, the person will experience overall weakness as well as vertigo-like dizziness. If the problem is a result of an underactive thyroid gland, the patient will suffer from abrupt weight gain, fatigue, constipation and irregular periods. A malfunctioning hypothalamus also causes fluctuating body temperature, uncontrolled and frequent urination, excess thirst and emotional problems.
Those who experience some or all of the aforementioned symptoms should immediately see the doctor to determine what is causing the disruption of the proper function of hypothalamus. The treatment comes in a variety of ways to help manage the accompanying symptoms and prevent future complications from happening.