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The hypothalamus is an area of the brain that produces hormones that control:

  • Body temperature
  • Hunger
  • Mood
  • Release of hormones from many glands, especially the pituitary gland
  • Sex drive
  • Sleep
  • Thirst
  • Heart rate



Hypothalamic dysfunction can occur as a result of diseases, including:

  • Genetic causes (often present at birth or during childhood)
  • Injury as a result of trauma, surgery or radiation
  • Infection or inflammation


Because the hypothalamus controls so many different functions, hypothalamic disease can have many different symptoms, depending on the cause. The most common symptoms are:

  • Increased appetite and rapid weight gain
  • Extreme thirst and frequent urination (diabetes insipidus)
  • Low body temperature
  • Slow heart rate


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.

Hall JE. Pituitary hormones and their control by the hypothalamus. In: Hall JE, ed. Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 76.

Review Date 5/21/2017

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.