Hereditary Baldness: The Genetics of Hair Loss

Written by Kean Health
4 min

Hereditary Baldness: The Genetics of Hair Loss

Hair loss is a natural and common phenomenon that affects millions of Americans at some point in life. According to the American Hair Loss Association, those struggling with the effects of this condition are affected professionally, socially, and emotionally. In fact, it’s not uncommon for men experiencing hair loss to change career paths as a result.

Hair thinning and eventual loss can affect both men and women and may be caused by any combination of hormones, genes, and/or the aging process. Genetics, however, has shown to have roughly an 80% influence on whether or not an individual will have hair loss that leads to male-pattern baldness, based on a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This article will overview the causes and symptoms of hereditary hair loss and address methods of prevention and available treatments for this condition.

The Causes of Hereditary Baldness

Non-genetic hair loss can be caused by excessive hair coloring, bleaching, use of heat tools, tight ponytails, and/or hair pulling, but this isn’t the case for genetic hair loss. If you are predisposed to hereditary baldness, you can do everything right for your scalp and still lose your hair.

You’ve probably heard before that if your mother’s father was bald, you have a good chance of inheriting the trait as well. This is because the gene for baldness — the androgen receptor — is located on the X chromosome, which is inherited from the mother. But studies have found that men whose fathers are bald run a higher risk of having male-pattern baldness than those whose fathers haven’t experienced hair loss.

In addition to balding patterns, children can also inherit dihydrotestosterone (DHT) sensitivity from their parents. DHT is a sex hormone in men that causes their hair follicles to shrink over time, and is what eventually causes male-pattern baldnesss.

Symptoms of Hereditary Baldness

You know that hair loss is the primary symptom of hereditary baldness, but be sure that you know how much hair loss is normal before you start to panic. Hair loss is defined as the thinning of the hair that advances to complete hair loss on any area of the scalp. Humans normally lose around 100 strands of hair per day (barring those who have just given birth or who have a serious illness, in which case they may lose more).

So, if you notice hair falling out in large clumps in the shower, in your comb, or on your pillow, be sure to see your doctor — especially if your scalp is red, patchy, itchy, or otherwise abnormal in the areas of hair loss. This may indicate the presence of a secondary condition or a more serious condition, such as a fungal infection, alopecia, or another skin problem.

Men will be able to tell a difference when their hair starts to fall out by the change in the shape of their hair line. In males, hair loss begins at the temples and the crown and recedes along the forehead in an M-shaped pattern. In the advanced stages of baldness, the rim of hair along the back of the head is all that remains. Hair loss in women is a little less noticeable, as they lose hair all over their head, making the loss more widespread but better concealed. For women, the forehead and temples usually aren’t affected; rather, the thinning hair at the top of the head becomes noticeably thinner over time.

Treatments for Hereditary Baldness

You’ll be relieved to know that having hereditary-pattern baldness doesn’t mean you have no other choice than to be bald. Wigs, toupees, weaves, and other variations of false hair are always available to those wanting to make their hair loss more discrete. However, some people may find that a shaved head is suitable for their facial features or bone structure and choose to embrace the look.

If you’re looking to grow your hair back naturally, minoxidil or finasteride have been widely used. These medications can be used to promote the growth of new hair, but be aware that every person reacts differently to them — and they have their fair share of side effects.

How to Prevent Hair Loss as You Age

If you already know that you have a family history of hair loss, now is the time to be proactive in preventing hereditary baldness, if this is something you are trying to avoid. As aforementioned, minoxidil (otherwise known as Rogaine) will slow hair loss in both men and women. This product can be applied topically to the scalp twice a day and is available over the counter. People usually see the slight regrowth results in as little as four months with consistent use. However, if you stop using the medication, you run the risk of losing any hair that grew back.

For men, finasteride (known as Propecia or Proscar in stores) can be used to slow hair loss as well. This is an orally administered pill that controls the hair loss hormones. According to Harvard Health, approximately 99% of men are able to prevent baldness using finasteride, and around two thirds of men using it experienced some hair regrowth. Women should not use Propecia, especially if they are pregnant or may soon become pregnant, as it can cause birth defects. If you are a woman with elevated male hormones, you are better off seeking hormone treatment via birth control pills. Ask your doctor about the best solution for you.

How to Know When You Should Call a Doctor

While hereditary baldness is natural and normal, hair loss alone should not be dismissed when it begins. There may be underlying conditions causing it to happen, so you should always get in touch with a doctor if your hair suddenly starts falling out more than normal, becomes patchy, or is occurring before the age of 30. Redness or scarring of the scalp are also good indications of a secondary condition and merit a trip to your physician’s office.

Find Out Your Level of Risk for Hair Loss

If you have a family history of hereditary-pattern baldness and you’re concerned that you might also inherit the condition, Kean Health can put your worries at ease. Order our Gene test today to find out whether you are likely to develop hair loss at some point in life. Simply provide a small saliva sample, and we will tell you whether or not you are at risk of balding based on your DNA.