Understanding Stretch Marks Part I: Prevalence & Symptoms

. 2 min read

Stretch marks are dermal scars caused by tearing of the dermis due to rapid distension or stretching of the skin. Stretch marks, or striae distensae, happens due to rapid fluctuations in weight or due to hormonal changes occurring during pregnancy or puberty. Once formed, stretch marks may gradually diminish in size, but they are not known to disappear completely. In part I of a three-part series on Understanding Stretch Marks, we help you understand stretch marks as a medical condition by explaining its prevalence and symptoms.

Prevalence

  • Stretch marks are a common concern and anyone can experience it - it is not gender, race or age biased. Although, they have a strong female predilection and are seen in 40-90% of women, owing to hormonal factors.
  • They can occur at any age, when there is distension of skin, due to weight fluctuations, particularly a gain in weight. Sometimes, they can also occur due to rapid and quick weight loss.
  • They occur most commonly during pregnancy and puberty, which are associated with hormonal changes, thus, occurring in about 40-90% of pregnant women striae gravidarum and 70% of girls during puberty.
  • In men, they occur due to rapid weight gain, owing to obesity or as a result of excessive weight lifting regimen in order to increase muscle mass rapidly, like in body-builders.

Appearance, stages and symptoms:

  • They appear as reddish-purple, long, narrow and smooth streaks or bands, occurring particularly in the areas of body with excessive fat storage like, belly, buttocks, thighs, breasts, upper arm, under arms and back.
  • They arise in the dermis layer of the skin. The dermis is a thick layer of tissue that aids in the skins flexibility and strength. It has nerve endings, sweat glands and oil (sebaceous) glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels.
  • Gradually, the stretch marks begin to atrophy (waste away) and lose their reddish-purple hue, fading down to whitish, pale or silver-coloured lines, which are soft and empty upon touch.
  • They visibly differ in appearance from the surrounding skin, and are thus an aesthetic concern for most people, causing emotional distress, especially in young women. However, they do not pose any medical threat to the person, and are completely asymptomatic. Though, they can sometimes cause an itching (or burning) sensation, in some people.

We have all suffered from stretch marks at least once in our lifetime. Knowing you're not alone can be a great comfort while understanding its appereance can help you identfy it if you do experience it. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate - you should always confirm any skin condition with a dermatologist. Knowing information about how any skin condition occurs can help in taking care of them!

There are many causes of stretch marks, and in the upcoming blog post we will dive into those detailsa long with how dermatolgists diagnose stretch marks. Stay tuned!