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Genetic Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Is BPD in Your Genes?

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Updated April 28, 2014

Wondering about the genetic causes of borderline personality? You're not alone. Many people wonder why they or a loved one has borderline personality disorder (BPD). Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but research is getting closer to understanding the causes of BPD.

Studies of BPD in families show that first degree relatives (siblings, children, parents) of people treated for BPD are 10 times more likely to have been treated for BPD themselves than the relatives of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, while this suggests that BPD runs in families, studies of these type do not tell us exactly how much of BPD is due to genetics. First-degree relatives often also share environments, for example, siblings may be raised together by the same parents. So, these studies may be reflecting, in part, environmental causes of BPD.

A more direct (though still imperfect) way to study the influence of genes on BPD is to examine rates of BPD among identical versus fraternal twins. There have been a few twin studies of BPD, which have shown that 42% to 69% of the variance in BPD is caused by genetics (meaning that 58% to 31% of the variance in BPD is caused by other factors, such as environment). This suggests that BPD is fairly strongly related to genetic causes, but that most likely an interaction of genes and environment leads to BPD in most people with the disorder.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you have BPD, this means that it is not your fault. You probably have a genetic predisposition to develop the disorder, and perhaps you have experienced some of the environmental events that seem to be linked to BPD in some cases (such as childhood abuse, loss of a loved one). You do not have BPD because you are “weak” or “can’t handle things.” There is a reason why you experience the symptoms you do.

If you have a first-degree relative with BPD, it means that you may have an increased chance of developing the disorder yourself. However, this by no means guarantees that you will have BPD. In fact, chances are likely that you will not. If you are concerned that you are showing signs of the disorder, the key is to get treatment early in order to reduce any risk factors and keep you on course.

If you are a parent and you have BPD, it means that you may be concerned about whether your kids will have BPD too. While this is a possibility, know that while genes are important, they are not the sole cause of BPD. There may be ways to ensure the environment you provide for your kids reduces their risk.

Sources:

Distel MA, Trull TJ, Derom CA, Thiery EW, Grimmer MA, Martin NG, et al. “Heritability of Borderline Personality Disorder Features is Similar Across Three Countries.” Psychological Medicine. 38:1219-1229, 2008.

Loranger AW, Oldham JM, Tulis EH. “Familial Transmission of DSM-III Borderline Personality Disorder.” Archives of General Psychiatry. 39:795-799, 1982.

Torgersen S. “Genetics of Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 23:1-9, 2000.

Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR, Yong L, Raviola G, Reich DB, Hennen J, et al. “Borderline Psychopathology in the First-degree Relatives of Borderline and Axis II Comparison Probands.” Journal of Personality Disorders. 18(5):449-447, 2004.

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