What is it?
Stretch marks (striae) are pink, reddish or purplish indented streaks that often appear on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks and thighs. Stretch marks are very common in pregnant women, especially during the last half of pregnancy.
You may be concerned about these bright streaks on your skin, but stretch marks are not serious and fade over time. In some cases, however, widespread stretch marks are a sign of a medical condition such as Cushing's syndrome or another adrenal gland disease. Treatments can lessen the appearance of stretch marks, but won't completely remove them.
Signs and symptoms of stretch marks include:
- Indented streaks or lines in the skin
- Multiple pink, red or purple streaks
- Bright streaks that fade to light pink, white or greyish color
Stretch marks are common on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks and thighs. Sometimes they can cover large areas of the body.
Stretch marks seem to be caused, literally, by a stretching of the skin coupled with a normal increase in cortisone, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisone may weaken elastic fibers in the skin.
Stretch marks develop in a variety of circumstances, including:
- Pregnancy. Most pregnant women develop stretch marks by the end of their pregnancy. The physical stretching of the skin, along with hormonal factors, likely play a role.
- Weight gain. Stretch marks sometimes occur during substantial weight gain. Weightlifters also can develop stretch marks, particularly on the arms. Adolescents may notice stretch marks during growth spurts.
- Medication use. Corticosteroid creams, lotions and pills and chronic steroid use can cause stretch marks.
- Conditions or diseases. Cushing's syndrome and adrenal gland diseases can cause widespread stretch marks as can Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and other hereditary (genetic) disorders.
Stretch marks are more common in women — especially pregnant women — than in men. Most pregnant women experience stretch marks by the end of their third trimester. Other risk factors include:
- Younger women
- Women with larger babies
- Overweight or obese women
- A family history of stretch marks
- Corticosteroid medication use
Stretch marks are typically diagnosed based on an examination of your skin and a review of your medical history. Your doctor will ask questions about your signs and symptoms, medications you're taking, and any known medical conditions.
If your doctor suspects that a medical condition is causing the stretch marks, he or she may recommend urine or blood tests, imaging tests, or other medical tests.