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Along with all the joys of motherhood come the headaches from crying babies, dirty diapers and midnight feedings – and that doesn’t even begin todescribe the physical toil having ababy exacts on a mother! There are the sleepless nights, the struggle to get back to that pre-pregnancy shape and, for 90 percent of all women, the permanent reminder that one has had a baby – stretch marks.
Stretch marks, known technically as Striae Gravidarum, Striae Distensae and Striae Atrophicae, were first medically recognized in 1773. The first hisatologic (pertaining to the scientific study of tissue) observations on the subject were published in 1867 by Dr. Zur Kustner, a Dutch physician. Stretch marks begin as a pink to violet thinning of the surface of the skin, most commonly in the abdominal, breast or thigh areas. In extensive cases, they can also be found on the upperarm, lower back and buttocks.
A woman goes through numerous changes during pregnancy and the epidermis (skin) is among the many organs that undergoes change. Stretch marks generally begin to appear during the second half of pregnancy, usually around the sixth or seventh month. These marks may enlarge and become exaggerated as the pregnancy comes to term. The defect 9scar) in the skin wil lalways remain. However, it will fade superficially post-parturn from red and pink to silvery-white or brownish lines.
While the exact cause of these permanent badges of motherhood is unknown, there are several theories on the subject. Theoretically, stretch marks appear to have a hereditary link and are less common in black and Asian women due to the increased amount of elastin present in their skin type. Studies have shown that there does not appear to be a correlation between the severity of the marks and the degree of body-size enlargement during pregnancy. However, the location and direction of the stretch marks are thought to be related to certain factors, such as the tautness of the abdomen and breasts.
While overwhelmingly occuring in pregnant women, stretch marks can also afflict weight lifters, teens in the midst of growth spurts and obese individuals. Medical research supports the theory that rapid growth is the most common precipitant of stretch marks. A pregnant woman who gains weight rapidly, rather than gradually, increases her chances of developing stretch marks. Altough there is no direct correlation between the amount of weight gain and the onset of stretch marks, there is an association between the occurence of the marks and heavier babies.
Stretch marks during pregnancy seem to be caused by several factors:
1) Increased abdominal girth during pregnancy stretches the skin around the abdomen, causing colagen fibers to become damaged.
2) The amount of elastin and collagen in the skin appears to be another important determinant, as noted previously.
3) The main theory is that one or more of the hormones of pregnancy, particularly the corticosteroids, may alter and weaken the connective tissue of the skin. When this happens, the elastic fibers in the skin are raptured and the damage is irreversable. This theory account for stretch marks that occur during pregnancy, growth spurts, diseases and the use of certain medications.
How can one prevent the onset of stretch marks? According to a Swiss study by Walther Buman and Gynak DeWeck, women who used a cream containing hyaluronic acid from the third month of their pregnancy until three months after giving birth have had positive results. At the N.Y.U. Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology, another study by Thomas and Sylvia Wade and Henery Jones, suggests that cellular regenration – restoring the skin to its “normal” condition prior to the onset of the striae – helps with stretch marks that still show signs of circulation. The treatment may last from six months to three years and involves the application of oils, vials for cellular regeneration, vegetable extracts, treatment with infrared lamps and balneotherapy (bath treatments).
What can be done once the stretch marks have developed? It was once thought that the use of topicalcreams would lessen the unsightly marks. In the long run, however, this method proved to be ineffective. Studies have generally shown that the only cream that may be effective is Retinoic Acid. Now as treatment methods and technology have advanced, the use of lasers in conjunction with topical creams is a promising alternative.
By using a specialized laser in conjunction with the application of topical creams and other measures, we have been able to achieve a 65 percent improvement in the elasticity and depression of stretch marks. The advantages of using this laser treatment system also include: reproducibility; decreased risk of scarring or infection; minimal risk of discoloration; maximum reduction of the stretch marks; personalization of treatment; and high patient satisfaction. It is important to note that all individuals are different, so results may vary from person to person. One must also have realistic expectations of results prior to beginning any treatment.
Stretch marks affect tens-of-millions of Americans. Although generally symptomless, their appearance may cause psychological distress. people with stretch marks are often more conscious of their apperance. Fortunately, there are treatments available, and even when left alone, the marks, while permanent, will fade over time.