Stretch marks are red, whitish, or purple streaks in the skin.
Stretch marks occur when skin is stretched too much over a short time. The elastic fibers just below the skin tear. This tear leaves streaks of indented skin.
The elastic fibers may also be weakened by hormones present during pregnancy. These hormones may also be linked to rapid weight gain or some health issues.
Stretch marks are common in pregnancy.
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Stretch marks are more common in women. Other things that may raise the chance of stretch marks include:
- Family history of stretch marks
- Pregnancy, especially if the baby is large
- Being overweight or obese
- Rapidly gaining or losing weight
- Rapid muscle gain
- Rapid growth
- Using corticosteroid medicines
- Some health issues, such as adrenal gland disorders
Stretch marks are red or purple streaks that are slightly indented. Over time they turn whitish in color. They are most common on the stomach, thighs, buttocks, and breasts, but may also occur in other areas. The stretched skin may also be dry or itchy.
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.
The doctor may look for answers if the cause is not clear.
Most stretch marks fade over time without treatment. Some people may want faster results or deeper fading of stretch marks. In general, the current treatments are limited and do not work well.
Things that will affect treatment options include:
- Age of stretch marks
- Convenience of treatment—may require multiple sessions
- Cost—treatments are often not covered by medical insurance
- Expectations about outcomes
Treatment options include:
There are no proven methods for preventing stretch marks. Staying within advised weight gain guidelines during pregnancy may help. People who are not pregnant should try to keep a healthy weight.
Lotions have not been proven to prevent stretch marks. They may be helpful to moisturize and soothe itchiness.
Tretinoin cream may help lessen the appearance of stretch marks. It is most effective on stretch marks that are less than 6 weeks old and still red or pink in color.
It should not be used during pregnancy.
- Changes in your body during pregnancy: second trimester. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/pregnancy-newborns/your-body/changes-in-your-body-during-pregnancy-second-trimester.html.
- Elsaie, M.L., Baumann, L.S., et al. Striae distensae (stretch marks) and different modalities of therapy: an update. Dermatologic Surgery, 2009; 35 (4): 563-73.
- Treatments of common health concerns in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/treatments-of-common-health-concerns-in-pregnancy.
- Stretch marks (striae). New Zealand Dermatological Society DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/dermal-infiltrative/striae.html.
- Mary-Beth Seymour, RN
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