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Stretch Marks

(Striae)

Definition

Stretch marks are red, whitish, or purple streaks in the skin.

Causes    TOP

Stretch marks occur when skin is stretched too much over a short period of time time. The elastic fibers just below the skin tear. This tear leaves streaks of indented skin. The elastic fibers are also weakened by hormones present during pregnancy. These hormones may also be associated with rapid weight gain or certain medical conditions.

Pregnant Woman

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Stretch marks are common in pregnancy.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors    TOP

Stretch marks are more common in women. Other factors that may increase your 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 medications
  • Certain medical conditions, such as adrenal gland disorders

Symptoms    TOP

Stretch marks are red or purple streaks that are slightly indented. They eventually 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.

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

If the cause of stretch marks is not obvious your doctor may look for other causes. These tests may include blood tests.

Treatment    TOP

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.

Factors that will affect your treatment options include:

  • Age of stretch marks
  • Convenience of treatment—may require multiple sessions
  • Cost—usually not covered by medical insurance
  • Expectations about outcomes

Treatment options include the following:

Medications

Tretinoin cream may help to 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.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy can stimulate the growth of collagen and elastin. It may decrease the appearance of stretch marks.

Prevention    TOP

There are no proven methods for preventing stretch marks. Staying within recommended weight gain guidelines during pregnancy may help. If you are not pregnant, maintain a healthy weight.

Lotions have not been proven to prevent stretch marks. They may be helpful to moisturize and soothe itchiness.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology
http://www.aad.org
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Dermatology Association
http://www.dermatology.ca
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://sogc.org

References:

Elsaie ML, Baumann LS, Elsaaiee LT. Striae distensae (stretch marks) and different modalities of therapy: an update. Dermatol Surg. 2009;35(4):563-73.
Changes in your body during pregnancy: second trimester. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated October 2015. Accessed August 21, 2017.
Common symptoms, signs and laboratory changes in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 29, 2015. Accessed August 21, 2017.
Stretch marks (striae). New Zealand Dermatological Society DermNet NZ website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated June 16, 2014. Accessed August 21, 2017.
Treatments of common complaints in pregnant women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 1, 2016. Accessed August 21, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/11/2015

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