How Your Genetics Can Affect Alopecia
Alopecia is the umbrella term for a group of hair loss conditions affecting men and women worldwide. Experiencing hair loss can be a traumatic experience for some, especially if it is unexpected or occurs at a young age. And if you’ve watched family members deal with hair loss, you might wonder if your alopecia risk is higher as a result of your genetics.
While there are hereditary factors that can increase your risk of developing alopecia, your genes are just one of the potential causes. Many people who experience hair loss do not have a family history of the condition, while others will notice their hairline starts to resemble Dad’s as they age. Let’s take a look at the different types of alopecia, as well as the genetic and non-genetic factors that contribute to it.
Types of Alopecia
Alopecia is the medical term for a series of hair loss conditions. Some types of alopecia will be familiar to you, while a few of the rarer forms might be not. Here are 7 types of alopecia you should know:
- Androgenetic alopecia - also known as male or female-pattern baldness
- Alopecia areata - an autoimmune condition that causes hair to fall out in patches
- Scarring alopecia - a grouping of 3 types of alopecia that replaces hair follicles with scar tissue
- Chemotherapy induced alopecia - hair loss following chemotherapy treatment
- Tellogen effluvium - hair loss induced by a physical or psychological trigger
- Traction alopecia - hair loss caused by pulling from tight hairstyles, relaxers, or extensions
- Trichotillomania - hair loss caused by the person pulling out their own hair (a psychological condition)
Hair loss is common in the United States, with androgenetic alopecia being the most common form. According to the Cleveland Clinic, male or female-pattern baldness affects approximately 80 million Americans. Men are more likely to experience this type of hair loss than women, but it does affect both. Alopecia areata, one of the other more common types of hair loss, affects 6.8 million Americans.
The Link Between Alopecia and Genetics
Researchers have discovered that your genetics sometimes play a role in certain types of alopecia, especially male or female-pattern baldness. So, yes, you can inherit what many call “the baldness gene” from a parent. A number of studies have identified genetic variants linked to variations in baldness, for example, with variants to the AR gene showing the strongest association.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, if you have a close family member with alopecia areata you may have a higher risk of getting it. But many people with the condition have no family history of this type of hair loss. Still, scientists have linked multiple genes to the disease, many of which are important for the functioning of the immune system, suggesting genetics does play a role in alopecia areata.
Other Risk Factors for Hair Loss
Hair loss can be caused by a combination of biological, environmental, lifestyle, psychological, and genetic factors. Some of the non-hereditary causes of hair loss include:
- Hormonal changes and medical conditions - pregnancy, for example, can cause temporary hair loss
- Fungal infection of the scalp
- Medications and supplements - hair loss can be a side effect of certain medications or supplements
- Radiation therapy to the head
- A very stressful or traumatic event
- Hairstyles and treatments
Genetic Testing for Inherited Hair Loss
If you’re alarmed by any sudden or gradual hair loss you’ve experienced, it’s important to consult with a medical professional. They can help you understand what might be causing your hair loss, and will likely ask you about a number of possible factors, including family history and current medications. They might also inspect your scalp for any infections, or order blood testing. Current science does offer genetic testing for hair loss as well, which can determine if you carry one of the known genetic variants than can increase your risk for hair loss.
If you’ve already taken an at-home DNA test and found results that suggest any inherited risk for a medical condition, including alopecia, it’s important to bring those results to your doctor to discuss additional testing options and any available next steps.
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