Stretch Marks

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Stretch mark facts

  • The medical name for stretch marks is striae distensae.
  • Stretch marks are very common.
  • Stretch marks rarely are a sign of a significant medical problem.
  • Stretch marks are generally painless.
  • Stretch marks commonly develop in obese individuals and during pregnancy.

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks appear as linear streaks on the skin that has been overstretched, and they run perpendicular to maximum lines of tension in the skin. They begin as flat red lines, and over time they appear as slightly depressed white streaks. They tend to occur near the armpits, on the thighs, abdomen, chest, and groin. Their appearance is similar to changes seen in the surface of rubber balloons that have been overinflated.

What causes stretch marks?

There is some controversy over the precise mechanism by which striae occur. There seems to be damage to the elastic fibers of the dermis (the deeper layer of the skin) accompanied by inflammation which eventually results in scar-like changes. These changes appear to be induced by excessive physical stretching of the skin. There are a number of clinical situations which will predispose the skin to the formation of striae. These include rapid and excessive increase in body mass, the excessive use of topical or systemic glucocorticoid drugs (steroids), Cushing's disease (overproduction of glucocorticoids by the adrenal gland), puberty, Marfan's syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (two uncommon genetic diseases), excessively large breast implants, and pregnancy.

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What are risk factors for stretch marks?

Excessive rapid weight gain and pregnancy are the two most common risk factors. Other risk factors include the conditions described above that predispose the skin to developing stretch marks.

What are symptoms and signs of stretch marks?

Striae are rarely painful or itchy. They do not produce troublesome symptoms. They begin as linear red streaks and eventually mature into linear white lines.

How are stretch marks diagnosed?

Since stretch marks are quite common, most people are familiar with their appearance. They are identifiable on visual inspection by patients and doctors.

What is the treatment for stretch marks?

There are a wide variety of treatments, but none of them seem to be particularly valuable in preventing or treating this condition. It is generally agreed that there is no good medical evidence that any creams or ointments will produce any sustained improvement in the appearance of stretch marks. The use of physical modalities such as lasers and ultrasound holds some promise, but time will tell if these treatments are effective.

Are there any home remedies for stretch marks?

No, there is no evidence that any home remedies can improve the appearance of stretch marks.

What is the prognosis of stretch marks?

As the striae mature, they become less apparent but they rarely disappear. They do not cause any health problems.

Can stretch marks be prevented?

Aside from maintaining a normal weight, there is little that can be done to prevent stretch marks from developing.

Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology

REFERENCE:

Elsaie, Mohamed, L., Leslie S. Baumann, and Lotfy T. Elsaaiee. "Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks) and Different Modalities of Therapy: An Update." Dermatol Surg 35 (2009): 563-573.

Last Editorial Review: 11/11/2015

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Reviewed on 11/11/2015
References
Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology

REFERENCE:

Elsaie, Mohamed, L., Leslie S. Baumann, and Lotfy T. Elsaaiee. "Striae Distensae (Stretch Marks) and Different Modalities of Therapy: An Update." Dermatol Surg 35 (2009): 563-573.

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