The short answer to the question, “Is scoliosis hereditary?” is, “not usually,” but the longer answer requires some further detail.
Scoliosis in adolescents, who comprise 80% of those afflicted, is generally idiopathic. That means its cause is unknown. In addition, “Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis typically occurs by itself, without signs and symptoms affecting other parts of the body,” said the United States National Library of Medicine.
Let us explain.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis
Scoliosis of the spine most commonly affects children starting at age 10, primarily girls, and is usually idiopathic. “The major types of non-idiopathic scoliosis are congenital scoliosis due to malformation or faulty segmentation of the vertebrae and neuromuscular scoliosis due to muscular imbalance,” said the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Idiopathic scoliosis is not a diagnosis, per se, but rather, “a diagnosis of exclusion,” meaning that it is given in the absence of specific clinical or radiological findings.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis can apply to a broad range of ages, starting from infancy. But adult scoliosis is in a category of its own, with some causes outside of an idiopathic diagnosis. Adult scoliosis “may be either a continuation of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or a de novo development owing to degenerative changes or other causes,” said the NCBI. “In elderly patients, de novo scoliosis is often hard to tell apart from pre-existing idiopathic scoliosis with superimposed degenerative changes.”
In addition to disc degeneration, scoliosis cases in adults can develop because of “arthritis of the facet joints and collapse and wedging of the disc spaces,” said the Scoliosis Research Society. It is typically seen in the lumbar spine (lower back).”
The genetic connection is unclear
Because there are often no other signs or symptoms outside of the curvature of the spine, the cause of scoliosis in adolescents can be difficult to source. Still, experts think that “Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis probably results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors,” said the National Library of Medicine. “Studies suggest that the abnormal spinal curvature may be related to hormonal problems, abnormal bone or muscle growth, nervous system abnormalities, or other factors that have not been identified.”
According to the National Institute of Health, “Researchers suspect that many genes are involved in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Some of these genes likely contribute to causing the disorder, while others play a role in determining the severity of spinal curvature and whether the curve is stable or progressive. Although many genes have been studied, few clear and consistent genetic associations with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis have been identified.”
In addition, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis occurs in individuals with no family predisposition and also clusters in some families. “The inheritance pattern of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is unclear because many genetic and environmental factors appear to be involved,” said the NCBI. “However, having a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis increases a child’s risk of developing the condition.”
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