March 23, 2006 -- A woman's stretch marks may mean she is more likely to develop pelvic prolapse, a new study shows.
In pelvic prolapse, the structures that support the pelvis weaken. Symptoms include pelvic pressure, pain, seeing or feeling a vaginal bulge, and urinary and/or rectal incontinence.
Stretch marks are red, pink, or purple streaks in skin that's been stretched, such as in pregnancy or after weight gain or extreme weight loss. About half of all pregnant women get stretch marks, which often fade after delivery, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Women's Health Information Center.
The new study, published in The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, doesn't predict pelvic prolapse for every woman with stretch marks. But it does show twice as many women with pelvic prolapse also had stretch marks, compared with those without prolapse.
About the Study
The study included 116 women seen at doctors' offices. The researchers included Alexa Kimball, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The women were about 60 years old and had had two pregnancies, on average. Nearly half had stretch marks (46%).
About 70% of the women had pelvic prolapse, based on a previous diagnosis or their self-reported symptoms. Those symptoms included pelvic pressure, urinary incontinence, protrusion of pelvic organs through the vagina, or a "falling down" or "dropped" sensation. The researchers didn't examine the women to check for pelvic prolapse.
Stretch marks were reported in 54.7% of the women with pelvic prolapse compared with only 25% of those without prolapse.
The researchers considered the women's age, weight, menopausal status, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, preterm labor, number of pregnancies, and use of oral steroids. Those factors didn't change the results.
Scientists don't know exactly how pelvic prolapse and stretch marks happen. Both have been linked to lower levels of collagen, note Kimball and colleagues, adding that genes could play a role in both conditions.
Stretch marks may signal a woman's risk of eventually developing pelvic prolapse, the researchers conclude. They call for more studies to check that theory.