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Common causes of stretch marks, related health conditions, and more

Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on January 10, 2020. Written by Caitlin Boyd. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Wondering what could be causing the stretch marks you’ve noticed on your skin? If so, read on to find out what can cause stretch marks, if you can get rid of stretch marks, related health conditions, and more.

Possible causes of stretch marks

Weight gain

Gaining weight, whether as a result of added muscle or fat, can change the shape of one’s body—an effect that can sometimes cause stretch marks.

Elevated cortisone levels

Cortisone is a hormone produced by your body's adrenal glands. This hormone plays a vital role in managing inflammation within your body. But if your body has too much cortisone, your skin may lose some elasticity. Skin that’s less elastic is more prone to stretch marks, so people with high cortisone levels sometimes develop stretch marks as a result.


The Everlywell at-home Sleep & Stress Test measures your body’s cortisone levels (plus cortisol and melatonin) and can help you understand if your levels may be too high.


Pregnancy

During pregnancy, women gain about 25-35 pounds, on average. Weight gain starts in the first trimester and accelerates during the second and third trimesters, increasing as the developing baby grows. Rapid weight change is a possible cause of stretch marks (as discussed above), which is one reason why stretch marks can develop as a result of pregnancy.

Pregnancy also causes the skin on the stomach to stretch. As a result, many women develop stretch marks around the belly. Some pregnant women also develop stretch marks on their arms, hips, thighs, buttocks, or breasts.

Note that stretch marks are considered a normal part of pregnancy. Some researchers estimate that up to 90% of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy. They aren't a sign of a health problem or pregnancy complication—but if they concern you, it’s worth bringing this up to your healthcare provider.

Cushing's syndrome

Like cortisone, cortisol is a hormone naturally produced by your body. Cortisol is often known as the "stress hormone" because cortisol levels rise when you experience a stressful event. But even when you aren’t stressed, some cortisol circulates throughout the body.

If you have chronically elevated levels of cortisol, you may have Cushing's syndrome. Cushing's syndrome can occur when your body creates too much cortisol, but it may also develop if you take high doses of corticosteroid medications for a long time. These medications are often prescribed for inflammatory conditions like asthma or arthritis.

People with Cushing's syndrome often experience the following symptoms:

  • Weight gain
  • Easy bruising
  • A round face
  • Thin arms and legs
  • Purple stretch marks

To check your cortisol levels from the comfort of home, take the Everlywell Metabolism Test—and get physician-reviewed results you can securely view online.


Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of genetic disorders that affect connective tissues in your body. Connective tissues help support your skin, bones, blood vessels, and organs. If these tissues don't work well, you may develop problems with your muscles or skin.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome often leads to soft, fragile skin that bruises easily. Scars and stretch marks are also common.

Marfan syndrome

Like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder. People with Marfan syndrome often have trouble producing a protein that supports skin elasticity. As a result, they can easily develop tears in their skin tissue. These tears can form stretch marks.

Marfan syndrome can also cause abnormalities in the heart or eyes. Without treatment, these abnormalities can sometimes trigger serious complications involving the heart, eyes, or skeleton.

What to do about stretch marks

If you’re experiencing stretch marks, talk with your healthcare provider to learn what steps to take next. Treating the underlying cause can—in some cases—reduce or eliminate stretch marks.

Common questions about stretch marks

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks can develop when your skin stretches too quickly. They can also occur if you have a chronic condition that affects the skin's elasticity. Most stretch marks are pink, red, or purple—but as they scar, they turn white or gray.

What causes stretch marks?

Many people develop stretch marks due to pregnancy or weight gain; in some cases, however, stretch marks can be a sign of a chronic health condition. Your healthcare provider can help determine whether your stretch marks are cause for concern.

Can you get rid of stretch marks?

Keeping your skin moisturized may help stop new stretch marks from forming, but usually won’t remove existing stretch marks—so seeing a dermatologist is a good idea. A dermatologist may offer in-office treatments to reduce the appearance of your stretch marks.


References

1. Cushing syndrome. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

2. Pregnancy week by week. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

3. Stretch marks. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

4. McAvoy BR. No evidence for topical preparations in preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Br J Gen Pract. 2013;63(609):212. doi:10.3399/bjgp13X665431

5. Cushing's Syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

6. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

7. Marfan syndrome. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.