Stretch Marks

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What are Stretch Marks?

Stretch Marks, also known as Striae, are a type of scars on the skin that form when the skin stretches. They appear as multiple lines on the skin and are different in colour and texture compared to normal skin. Stretch Marks may appear as purple, bright pink, or lighter than the surrounding skin colour. The marks can appear slightly raised above the skin.

Alternate name

  • Striae distensae

Is Stretch Marks a Medical emergency?

Stretch Marks are not a medical emergency.

Causes

The primary cause of Stretch Marks is the stretching of the skin. Stretching of the skin can happen:

  • During pregnancy when the abdomen enlarges
  • Rapid weight gain or weight loss
  • After a sudden growth spurt in teenagers
  • Weight training exercises that could cause rapid muscle growth
  • Long-term application of topical corticosteroid cream

The other reason for the development of Stretch Marks is an increase in cortisone hormone levels. Cortisone is a hormone produced by adrenal glands (glands that are present above the kidneys). Increased level of cortisone hormones leads to loss of skin elasticity by weakening the elastic fibres in the skin. Loss of skin elasticity leads to the development of Stretch Marks.

Risk factors

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing Stretch Marks:

  • Stretch Marks develop on the abdomen, especially during the last trimester
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid cream on the skin
  • Overweight
  • Rapid weight gain or weight loss
  • Previous family history of Stretch Marks
  • Presence of adrenal gland disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome, Marfan’s syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Symptoms & signs

Stretch Marks appear as zigzag lines or streaks on the skin, especially on the stomach, breasts, hips, and buttocks. Initially, they may be red, purple, pink, reddish-brown, or dark brown. Over time, the colour fades away and they appear lighter than the skin colour. They appear as raised lines on the skin and sometimes are itchy. Streaks cover most of the area on the skin.

Investigations/ Diagnosis

No specific diagnostic test is required to confirm the presence of the Stretch Marks. Diagnosis of Stretch Marks is made by physical examination of the skin and reviewing the past medical history and family history of an individual. If there is a suspicion that Stretch Marks might be a result of any other underlying illness, blood, urine, and some imaging tests are performed.

Treatment options

Medical treatment

No specific self-care or therapy is required to treat Stretch Marks. They fade away over time; however, they do not disappear completely. Treatment for Stretch Marks is available only to improve the appearance of the Stretch Marks.

Treatment also helps to alleviate itching if present.

  • Topical retinoid creams are used to improve the appearance and texture of Stretch Marks. Retinoid cream is derived from vitamin A. Retinoids help to rebuild collagen in the skin and improve skin elasticity.
  • Glycolic acid creams are also used in the treatment of Stretch Marks
  • Moisturizers can help to decrease the itching sensation

Interventional treatment including surgery and indications for surgery/ Surgical treatment

A cosmetic procedure like chemical peels, laser therapy, or micro-needling can help to treat Stretch Marks. These therapies help to generate new collagen growth and improve the elasticity function of the skin. The outer layer of the skin is removed and a new smoother, firmer, and toned skin is formed.

Role of diet/ Exercise/ Lifestyle changes/ Preventive measures

There are no specific ways to prevent Stretch Marks. Stretch Marks caused due to pregnancy cannot be prevented. However, some measures can be followed to maintain good skin:

  • Maintaining adequate weight with regular exercise and a healthy diet
  • Consume foods rich in vitamin C, D, E, zinc, and proteins
  • Treat new Stretch Marks with available treatments
  • Stay hydrated by drinking a lot of fluids

Complications

Except for affecting the cosmetic appearance of the skin, Stretch Marks does not lead to any type of complications.

Prognosis

Stretch Marks are permanent. There are no effective treatments available to cure Stretch Marks completely, and preventing them is also difficult. Nonetheless, Stretch Marks are not considered to be a serious skin condition or disease. They fade to become less noticeable with time.

When to contact the doctor? / How to identify the complications?

Usually, Stretch Marks are not of serious concern. They are not painful or harmful. However, medical consultation is necessary if they are affecting the appearance of the skin.

Indications for hospitalization

Treatment of Stretch Marks does not require any hospitalizations. Light or laser therapies or other cosmetic procedures that are performed in the treatment of Stretch Marks can also be performed on an outpatient basis.

Suggested clinical specialists/ Department to consult for this condition

  • Dermatology
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