One of most unattractive skin blemishes that many women absolutely hate is stretch marks. These stretch marks affect millions of individuals all over the globe, irrespective of age, race, or ethnicity. Stretch marks usually appear as long thin lines that appear on the skin and have a distinctly different appearance from normal skin. Stretch marks usually occur when there is sudden stretching of skin and the skin fails to return back to its original shape. While the condition is common in women, it can also happen in men.

Where do stretch marks usually occur?

The majority of stretch marks appear on the following areas of the body:

  •    Upper thigh
  •    Hips
  •    Waist
  •    Breast
  •    Shoulders
  •    Lower flank

Why do stretch marks occur?

Skin normally stretches all the time but in some people, the elasticity is lost and hence the skin cannot revert back to its original shape.

Stretch marks usually occur during pregnancy, when there is sudden weight gain or weight loss and during puberty when the teenager has spurts of growth. Sometimes stretch marks may occur after trauma to the skin. Fresh stretch marks usually appear reddish-purple but with time they turn gray or dark brown. The linear streaks are often multiple and occurs in clumps.

How common are stretch marks?

It is estimated that stretch marks occur in 50-80% of adults. In addition stretch marks occur in both genders. At puberty, almost 2/3rd of girls develop stretch marks on their thighs, breast, or waistline. Boys also develop stretch marks at puberty but they are located on the upper arms, chest, or back.

The majority of women develop stretch marks during the third trimester of pregnancy, when there is a sudden increase in size of the abdomen.

What are symptoms of stretch marks?

No matter how stretch marks one has or where they are located, they are painless. If you are having pain, then the cause is not stretch marks. Stretch marks are only of significance because they impart poor aesthetics. Most people hate the way stretch marks look like. Not only can they be disfiguring but also they often cause emotional distress in some people. In fact, many people will not undertake outdoors activity or wear swimwear because they are embarrassed about their stretch marks.

What are risk factors for stretch marks?

The following factors are often associated with stretch marks:

  1. Medical disorder like Cushing or Marfan syndrome: Medical conditions associated with stretch marks include Cushing syndrome, which is associated with large production of corticosteroids. Another disorder that causes stretch marks is Marfan syndrome. This genetic disorder presents with defects in the elastics of not only skin but also many other organs.
  2. Obesity
  3. Pregnancy: Stretch marks are most common during the later stage of pregnancy as the fetus starts to grow rapidly. Most of the stretch marks occur on the front of the abdomen and upper thigh. The reason the skin loses especially is because of the hormonal output during pregnancy, which makes all the ligaments laxed. In some unlucky females, even the skin around the breast will have stretch marks.
  4. Puberty: Because there is a sudden spurt of growth at puberty both boys and girls can develop stretch marks. Girls typically develop stretch marks on the thighs, breast, and abdomen while the boys develop stretch marks on the upper arms and back.
  5. Rapid weight gain or weight loss
  6. Weightlifting: Stretch marks may also arise if a person gains weight rapidly, such as when bodybuilders and athletes dramatically increase muscle mass over a short period of time.
  7. Use of medications like corticosteroids:

People who take the hormone cortisone and use them for a prolonged time can also develop stretch marks. Cortisone is known to decrease production of collage and thins the skin. Without underlying support, the skin eventually sags and stretches.

  1. Trauma

What usually happens to stretch marks?

When stretch marks initially develop they appear as pinkish lines. As they mature they will appear grayish or dark brown. In the majority of people, once stretch marks develop they do not disappear completely but they do fade. In some lucky people, the stretch marks will spontaneously disappear. This process can often takes many years.

How is the diagnosis of stretch marks made?

An astute healthcare provider can simply look at the skin blemishes and make a diagnosis of stretch marks. There are usually no tests required to make the diagnosis. However, in rare cases the doctor may order level of hormones if Cushing syndrome is suspected.