Getting to Know Multifactorial Conditions

May 25, 2019


Multifactorial conditions can be quite common. Do you have an uncle with depression? Maybe a sibling with an autoimmune condition? These are multifactorial conditions.

What is a multifactorial condition?

A multifactorial condition is a condition in which genetic factors and environmental factors play a role in the presentation of symptoms. For example, some people may have a genetic change that puts them at a higher risk, or higher susceptibility, for a multifactorial condition like depression. However, that genetic component alone is not enough to have symptoms. We may not see every individual in the family developing a multifactorial condition even though they may share an underlying genetic susceptibility. Environmental factors play a role in whether we see symptoms in an individual. 

Can I test for genetic susceptibility? Can I test for a multifactorial condition?

Yes and no. Testing is available to assess possible genetic susceptibility to some of these conditions. However, how clinically helpful are they? Identifying that genetic susceptibility does not mean you will develop a condition. Remember environmental factors also play a role. So does this change the clinical conversation? Not necessarily. You would be considered at an increased risk; however, this likely would not change clinical management.

Can I test my pregnancy for a multifactorial condition?

Again this comes down to: Does this change our clinical management? Often times no. Determining a possible genetic susceptibility for depression or other multifactorial conditions does not change management of a pregnancy from a clinical standpoint. Also, this testing is not a diagnosis within a pregnancy. Again, the environmental components are necessary to determine whether symptoms occur. Someone may have a genetic component or susceptibility and never have symptoms of a disorder.

How is this inherited?

While genetic susceptibility to conditions alone may not be enough to cause symptoms of a disorder, this underlying genetic susceptibility may be why we see a family history of these conditions. Multifactorial conditions don’t have an established inheritance pattern. We can see these conditions clustering in a family with shared genetic factors, but in some cases it is difficult to assess a specific risk as we don’t all share the same environmental factors. There are many different factors that can play a role in risk for these conditions. For example, gender may affect someone’s risk of developing a condition. 

Want to know more?If you have questions regarding multifactorial conditions, talk to your family physician, or contact us at 240-499-3265.