09 March 2010

Scar Tissue

What is scar tissue?

Scar tissue is a mark left on damaged tissue after it has finished healing. Although it is most commonly thought of as occurring on skin, scar tissue will also form on internal wounds, including those to vital organs. Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver, heart disease affects cardiac tissues, and even the pancreas can be scarred by diseases like pancreatitis.

Although scars replace destroyed tissue, they do not perform the function of the missing tissue properly. Extensively scarred tissue may lose the ability to function normally, or may limit muscle movement. Scarred blood or lymph vessels may hamper proper circulation of fluids. Scarred skin does not form sweat glands or hair follicles, and a scarred heart muscle can eventually lead to heart failure.

Scarred Skin

With regard to the skin, scar tissue forms after an injury, a part of the natural healing process and inevitable as the body piles collagen in to restructure the wound. Only a very minor wound will heal without the formation of scar tissue; whether accidental, self-inflicted or as a result ofsurgery, scars occur when the dermis is damaged. Even stretching can cause scarring, leaving long, linear marks. Ear piercings, too, are common sites for a build up of hard scar tissue.

The amount of scar tissue formed is linked to various factors about the wound. Size, depth and location have considerable effect on the scar, as do age, skin characteristics and other, hereditary factors. Scar tissue is usually easy to identify: dense and thick, varying in in colour. Silvery,pale pink or brown, the scar fades over time, but never truly disappears on its own. Surgical procedures can help, and topical medications can have some effect. Others swear by Vitamin E or cocoa butter.

Abnormal Scar Tissue

Known as a keloid or hypertrophic scars, abnormal scar tissue forms when the body over-produces collagen. These scars are thicker than normal scar tissue, with a different texture. Hypertrophic scars will not extend beyond the edge of the wound, though they will raise up from the skin's surface. Keloid scars are more worrying, as they may grow, indefinitely. Although benign, a large tumor-like growth can form.

Both types of abnormal scar are common on young or dark-skinned people. Some individuals have a genetic susceptibility to them, others may be caused by accidental damage.

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