Symptoms, Causes & Treatment of Stretch Marks

Striae, commonly referred to as stretch marks, are a common skin concern among pregnant women and individuals who have gained or lost a significant amount of weight. Stretch marks may fade with time or treatment, but they normally never completely disappear. While the condition is not harmful and does not cause physical discomfort, it can cause a person to become self-conscious about their appearance.

Symptoms of Stretch Marks

Stretch marks most often appear on the breasts, abdomen, thighs, hips, and buttocks. They often appear as indented lines in the skin and may be black, blue, pink, red, or purple in color. The streaks may be quite bright at first and gradually fade to a lighter color. Those most likely to develop stretch marks include women who are pregnant, individuals with a family or personal history of stretch marks, and those who are obese or who have had substantial changes in weight. The use of corticosteroid medications may also increase the risk of developing stretch marks.

In most instances, stretch marks are diagnosed based on a physical exam and medical history. A doctor may order laboratory tests if he or she suspects that the patient has abnormal cortisol levels.

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks are the result of the stress caused by the stretching of the skin. There is also some connection to cortisol levels since cortisol is known to weaken the skin’s elastic fibers. The severity of the striae can vary from person-to-person depending on genetics, cortisol levels, and the degree to which the skin is stretched.

How are Stretch Marks Treated?

Stretch marks are a cosmetic skin concern and do not pose any health risks. Patients who wish to improve the appearance of their stretch marks can use a variety of treatment options, including retinoid creams, laser therapies, and microdermabrasion. It is important to note that these treatments do not completely eliminate the striae, but they can make them less noticeable.