Striae gravidarum are marks that form during and after pregnancy, known colloquially as “stretch marks.” The severity and location of markings can vary, depending on the patient and a number of factors. Studies into the topic suggest that topical creams and other applications do not appear to have an impact on whether marks form and how quickly they fade. Once the marks appear, they will always be present, although they may become less visible with time.
The precise mechanics behind the formation of striae gravidarum are not well understood, although researchers suggest they may have something to do with hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy that could undermine collagen bonds. As the fetus grows and the woman puts on weight, lines of atrophied skin can start to appear. They may be dark purple or red at first, and fade to pale white or silver with time. The striae gravidarum can also acquire a slightly shiny appearance, and they may spread across the abdomen and thighs.
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Women with a family history of severe stretch marks are more likely to experience them in pregnancy, as are women who put on significant amounts of weight. Advanced gestational age at delivery, and a large baby, can also contribute to the formation of striae gravidarum. Younger women also tend to experience more intense markings. With subsequent pregnancies, the network of lines can become broader.
Prevention of striae gravidarum can include controlling weight during pregnancy, eating well and staying hydrated to keep the skin elastic, and considering supplements that can benefit skin health, like vitamin E. While research does not necessarily support the use of topical applications, gentle massage can promote circulation and may reduce the formation of marks. Experimental medications in development could supplement collagen or prevent skin atrophy in other ways.
Skin sagging, stretching, and other changes during pregnancy are not uncommon. Keeping the skin elastic can help, as can engaging in appropriate exercise to stay fit, and continuing exercise through the post-partum period to encourage the body to recover from the pregnancy-associated changes smoothly. For patients who experience distress because of striae gravidarum or other skin changes, cosmetic surgery may potentially be an option, depending on the location and nature of the change. Surgical consults to discuss options are often free or low in cost to allow patients to thoroughly explore all their options before making a decision about which treatment, if any, they want to pursue.