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Definition  

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

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Pregnant Woman  
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Stretch marks are common in pregnancy.

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Causes  

Stretch marks occur when skin is stretched too much over time. The elastic fibers just below the skin tear. This tear leaves streaks of indented skin. The elastic fibers are also weakened by hormones such as cortisone. The hormones are present during pregnancy, with rapid weight gain, or certain medical conditions.

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Risk Factors  

Stretch marks are more common in women. Other factors that may increase your chance of stretch marks include:

  • Family history of stretch marks
  • Pregnancy
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Rapidly gaining or losing weight
  • Using corticosteroid medicines
  • Certain medical conditions, such as adrenal gland disorders
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Symptoms  

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.

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Diagnosis  

Your doctor will ask 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 for cortisol levels
  • Imaging studies
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Treatment  

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.

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. 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
  • Your expectations

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.

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Prevention  

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.