An Overview of the Hypothalamus

The Endocrine System’s Link to the Nervous System

Written by Robert M. Sargis MD, PhD

The Hypothalamus Essentials

The hypothalamus plays a significant role in the endocrine system. It is responsible for maintaining your body’s internal balance, which is known as homeostasis. To do this, the hypothalamus helps stimulate or inhibit many of your body’s key processes, including:

The hypothalamus is involved in many functions of the autonomic nervous system, as it receives information from nearly all parts of the nervous system. As such, it is considered the link between the nervous system and the endocrine system. You can learn more by reading a SpineUniverse article about the nervous system.
 Anatomy of the Hypothalamus
The hypothalamus is located below the thalamus (a part of the brain that relays sensory information) and above the pituitary gland and brain stem. It is about the size of an almond.
 Hormones of the Hypothalamus
The hypothalamus is highly involved in pituitary gland function. When it receives a signal from the nervous system, the hypothalamus secretes substances known as neurohormones that start and stop the secretion of pituitary hormones.  
Primary hormones secreted by the hypothalamus include:

Hypothalamic Disease
A disease or disorder of the hypothalamus is known as a hypothalamic disease. A physical injury to the head that impacts the hypothalamus is one of the most common causes of hypothalamic disease.

Hypothalamic diseases can include appetite and sleep disorders, but because the hypothalamus affects so many different parts of the endocrine system, it can be hard to pinpoint whether the root cause of the disorder is actually related to another gland.

In particular, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland are so tightly connected that it’s often difficult for doctors to determine whether the condition is associated with the hypothalamus or pituitary gland. These are known as hypothalamic-pituitary disorders. However, there are hormone tests that help shed light on which part of the body is the root cause.

The hypothalamus is arguably the most essential of the endocrine system. By alerting the pituitary gland to release certain hormones to the rest of the endocrine system, the hypothalamus ensures that the internal processes of your body are balanced and working as they should.


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